Abasi watched the hunter chasing a gorilla with serious eyes.
The sun was retreating back to its home in the heavens causing fantastical shadows in the deep green forestas Abasi watched the hunter fire a shot at a silverback gorillabarreling through the thick underbrush.
A loud crack was followed by the sound of the gorilla’s roar of defiance in the distance. The bullet missed. The gorilla disappeared into the growing night. Abasi studied the hunter’s features from his hiding place to see his reaction to the gorilla’s challenge. None. He ejected the empty shell and held his rifle loosely against across his chest in a port arms position and listened to the sounds of the night.
Abasi estimated the hunter was about five feet, six inches tall, and weighed all of 135 pounds dripping wet. Not exactly a big game hunter he chuckled to himself. Getting serious (his name meant serious) he wondered what drew the hunter to this mangrove forest where hunting was forbidden and the trees critically endangered due to habitat loss?He strained his brain trying to recall the last time a hunter came through his land.He thoughts came back to the present when the hunter set out again, clumsily working his way through some ferns heading south towards the Congo Basin.
Staying behind the hunter, Abasi gently pushed Monkey Brush Vines aside as he cautiously followed him. He paused in a patch of Passion flowers when the hunter stopped and raised his rifle, slowly swinging it back and forth in a small arc like he was expecting to be attacked at any minute.
The thing about Abasi is he liked the peace and shelter the gorge provided anddidn’t want things to change.But this hunter was an immediate threatto his family and friends and couldn’t be ignored. He rushed forward with both arms up over his head just as the hunter began to turn around and crushed him in his powerful arms before tossing him around like a rag doll. As his consciousness slipped away the hunter marveled at the sheer size of the silverback that got him!
Jack clung to the remnants of the raft as it carried him toward the waterfalls directly ahead. He could hear the thunderous sound of the fast-moving water as it cascaded down the 200-foot drop into an abyss.
In his terror things seemed to slow down as he remembered the raft hitting an underwater snag that threw him and Harold into the churning waters. The raft broke into sections under the mighty flow that dashed it into several protruding boulders. Harold disappeared in the swift current. Jack was able to hold on to a small section of the raft and desperately tried to paddle towards the high bank.The current was too strong. Through the frothy water ahead he saw trees growing along the rough edge of the cliff overlooking the view below.If he could grab one, he had a chance. A small chance. But better than nothing.Then the tree was in his path, splitting the powerful flow and he screamed while lunging for the trunk.
The day had started out ominously when Harold burnt their last fish to a crisp destroying breakfast.The had to settle for their last slivers of beef jerky. The trip had taken longer than they thought it would and they started running out of supplies three days ago.They were lost. Harold had the only compass and he managed to lose it in the river days ago. They got diverted from the river they had charted out and were on another river leading to an unknown destination. Both men were aware of the giant waterfalls in this part of the country and had plotted their course accordingly to avoid them.
Jack held onto the tree trunk for dear life.
He dared not look over his shoulder. The sight could unnerve him and sap his courage and strength. His head was pounding in tandem with the deafening roar of the water. The tree’s slimy bark was peeling away as he grabbed onto it for dear life.Summoning up his last reserves he clawed his way up the trunk and reached the first limb where he was able to wedge his body into the crook between it and the trunk. His heartbeat slowed down as he realized he survived. He was going to make it. Someone would see him stuck in the tree when they came searching for Harold and him. They both told their parents where they were going – they even gave them a map – and how long they would be gone. When they didn’t return a search party would surely come looking.
Two days passed and Jack was still on the tree.That made it nearly a week beyond their estimate.What was taking the searchers so long? He was hungry and exhausted.
When he woke up, he was being carried on a stretcher towards a waiting ambulance. He was saved! He kept thanking his rescuers and telling them about Harold.It was so good to see his parents and sisters greeting him as he was loaded onto the ambulance. Poor Harold he thought.Then he saw his girlfriend Abby who leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
When the search party finally discovered Jack’s body in the tree one of the men noted the smile on his dead pasty white face.
Baily, the ship’s carpenter, reluctantly sat up in his hammock, nearly missing his head on the wooden beam that stretched across the cramped quarters. As usual he was in a foul mood and didn’t want to work in the Captain’s cabin building more shelves. As he got to his feet a big black cat shot between his legs like a blinding flash in pursuit of an enormous rat.
“You devil!” he squawked while pulling his shirt on. “Startles me every time” he grumbled to himself as he trudged up the stairs and onto the deck. The blinding sun made him swear an undecipherable oath as he pulled his tricorn hat down over his brow. Seagulls screams told him they were getting near land. He didn’t have time to eat. The captain expected him at eight bells and he knew the penalty if he wasn’t there on time. The whip. Just the thought hurried his pace.
Jason the cook was sitting on a stool peeling potatoes (it was early in the voyage and the ship’s food supply was still well stocked) when a black cat sauntered in with a grin. Jason smiled because he knew Lucifer had recently dined on a rat. He stopped peeling long enough to pet the huge cat who was brushing up against his legs.
Lucifer was Jason’s cat. He paid good money for him at the last port because he was special. He was a polydactyl cat. His front paws both had eight toes each which he used to his advantage in catching prey. His prior owner said he was retiring from the sea and needed the money. A prized cat like Lucifer could make life a lot easier on the whole crew. Food containers were rarely breeched because the wily feline never stopped hunting. Day and night. But, for reasons Jason couldn’t understand most of the crew, and the captain, seemed to fear him. Some, like Bailey, just hated Lucifer and would have gladly killed him if he didn’t think the crazy cook would cut him up into shark chum. He’d seen Jason fight with a butcher knife when two pirate ships tried to capture their ship the USS Ohio near Port au Prince, Haiti. His eyes were glazed with blood lust as he lopped off pirate limbs with such savagery his own mates gave him wide berth in battles. No. It was best not to antagonize the cook.
Sailors in the 18th century were a superstitious lot. So it was no surprise that the crew aboard the USS Ohio thought a black cat brought bad luck, unlike the British and the Irish who wanted black cats and considered them good luck. The fact that it’s name was Lucifer didn’t help. It was also common knowledge among the crew that if a ship’s cat fell, or was thrown overboard it meant trouble. The act would summon a terrible storm to sink the ship and that if the ship were able to survive, it would be cursed for nine years. So no one bothered Jason about his black cat. Only Bailey dreamed about killing Lucifer.
Daniel had the devil to pay. He was caught stealing another man’s gold chain and given the worst task aboard the ship. The devil was the ship’s longest seam in the hull. He was given pitch to caulk that seam while squatting in the filthy bilges. He’d already received a good flogging – ten lashes – and endured the stinging saltwater thrown on his bloody gashes. The task could take days, but he couldn’t come up until it was completed. His moans of pain echoed eerily in the semi-darkness as Lucifer watched him with his curious yellow cat eyes. The lone candle flickered, almost going out, before returning to a steady glow that caused shadows to frolic in the filth. Then Lucifer came up to him confidently and asked, “Do you believe in God?“
Harry and Spencer we’re enjoying a rare moment of rest by the scuttlebutt – a water barrel with a hole cut in it so that sailors could reach in and dip out drinking water. Rumors about what happened to their mate Daniel were rife among the crew and even officers. After a day of paying the devil the bosun’s mate had came down to check on Daniel. He let out a gasp of horror and vomited when he saw him. Daniel’s eyes were gone. Plucked out and sitting on his lap. His hair had turned from brown to pure white. He was peacefully chewing on his right arm, exposing bone as he ripped off gobbets of flesh. Nearby, Lucifer was curled up and watching the bosun’s mate scream for help.
The incident left all hands on board shaken. When Daniel’s condition was brought up to the captain he crossed himself and walked away without commenting. When they got to port a day later, Daniel was dead. The ship’s surgeon had sawed off his infected right arm but it was too little, too late. The ship’s log recorded seaman Daniel Phillips died from an infection from a self-inflicted wound. There was no mention of plucked-out eyeballs. Or his white hair. They stayed in port for two days unloading cargo and onloading new cargo. During that time one of the sailors deserted. A mate of his said he feared Lucifer more than getting strung up on the yardarm for desertion.
His work finished in the captain’s cabin, Bailey was below decks working on the wooden gun carriage that had been cracked in the last battle when he heard something, “You’re next,” a silky voice assured him. He gripped his hammer tighter and called out, “Show yourself, coward!” There was a rustling among the small oak barrels that held gun powder. Piles of rags and cannon swabs near them shifted with unseen movement. A sudden cold wind blew past him. The normally stifling hot gun deck seemed to cool down a few degrees as he listened for more movement.
“I’m not afraid of you Lucifer!” he screamed, sure now that the cat was indeed the devil.
A dark pall fell over the entire crew, with the exception of Jason who went about his normal day, content with the companionship of his cat.
A feeling of foreboding kept everyone nervous. As the days turned to weeks the crew’s fear’s were palpable. Strange little incidents were happening daily. Rope knots would inexplicably come loose causing close calls for sailors climbing the rigging. A bad case of “the trots” affected half the crew who squatted below decks over wooden pails for a week. Moral got lower every day. Rumors about Lucifer were passed around in hushed whispers. Meanwhile, Bailey had enough. His hate for Lucifer was white hot. It burned his brain and his patience, causing him to formulate a plan to kill the demon feline. He had to wait weeks, but the opportunity finally came.
He pulled out the wooden cage to capture Lucifer with from its hiding place. It was solidly built to hold the black devil captive long enough to throw him overboard. Everyone below deck was asleep so Bailey was careful not to make any noise. When he got to the base of the stairway leading to the main deck, he positioned the cage on it’s side with the door propped open with a piece of string leading to his hiding place by the scuttlebutt. Inside the cage was a live rat Baily had caught the day before. Using tough twine, he made a halter for the rodent that was tethered by a nail on the side of the box. The rat was on a short string stopping it from scurrying away. He waited for an hour before Lucifer struck! It was over in an instant. Bailey pulled the cord and the trapdoor came down on the startled cat who had the rat in his mouth. Dropping the half dead rodent Lucifer screeched so loud it woke everyone up. The sounds coming from Bailey’s box were blood curdling.
Moving swiftly he went topside and threw the box into the calm sea. Jason, who was asleep in his own little cubby was locked inside that night by Bailey. By the time he battered the door down Bailey had returned to his hammock. No one knew why the cook was rampaging around the room and what caused the screeches that woke them up.
A day passed before Jason decided something bad had made his cat howl like a lost soul, and the crew was complicit. The first thought that came to mind was he’d poison all the bastards. That way he’d be sure to get the perpetrator of Lucifer’s disappearance. It turned out that he didn’t have to do anything about it.
A terrible storm come up from the north causing massive waves that battered the ship like a toy for hours before it broke apart and sank with all hands on board.
With the exception of Jason who clung to a wooden box.
Miraculously, the seas were calm the next day when a ship came by and Jason was spotted by a sharp-eyed sailor. He clutched the wooden box securely to his chest as they helped him get in the row boat. Once on deck of the ship, the USS Vermont, Jason opened the box and pulled out Lucifer. To a man, the crew crossed themselves.
The hunt was on. Like a moon circling a planet, Djara kept a safe distance from the beast while patiently stalking and observing it’s every move for days.
In the course of her young life Djara had become a renown hunter. She was a superstar in the Milky Way Galaxy where hunters from different world’s gathered to share stories and techniques. Her reputation for bagging exotic game was well-earned. She had yet to find a quarry that eluded her and didn’t end up in her vast collection.
It was a harsh planet filled with strange creatures and endless jagged mountains surrounded by forests so thick sunlight couldn’t penetrate their canopies. Unbothered by the rugged land Djara made her way through the dense forest using her night vision glasses. All the stories she ever heard were true. The beast was eight-feet tall and had four powerful arms that sprouted from a massive hairy torso.
Hunters seldom returned after stalking the creature. There were some hunters who saw it firsthand and ran for their lives, only to be broken with fear and unable to ever hunt again when they returned. And there were those who died gruesome deaths for their efforts.
Flen’s grizzled features tried to crack a smile, but the effect looked more like a grinning death’s head than an attempt to be jovial. He was in a good mood. Someone was hunting him and they didn’t know that he knew. It was always like this. A game of life and death. Flen was exiled to the nameless planet eons ago for crimes long forgotten. Back in his world, before he ran afoul of the law, he was a bounty hunter. Some said he was the best one on the planet Druin.
Killing was a hobby for Djara. The only one she had. Because she was raised and spoiled by wealthy parents, she always got what she wanted. The best weapons instructors, and the latest high tech weapons were hers from an early age. She was sixteen when she went out on her first big game hunt. Since then she had become a skilled tracker and a crack shot.
The day finally came when she saw her chance. It was a clear shot. The beast was standing on a ridge line totally exposed 200 yards away. An easy shot. Instead of going for center mass she decided on a quick kill head shot. The laser rifle’s blue beam streamed in the same second as the quarry suddenly dropped out of sight! She wasn’t sure if it was a hit, or not. A cold feeling came over her and she involuntarily shuddered. This had never happened before.
She climbed up to the ridge line where the beast was a moment ago and looked down the other side hoping to see a body. Nothing. It dawned on her that she was in trouble. This quarry was turning the tables on her.
She would have been amazed to see how fast he moved when he plunged all the way down and into the forest below minutes before. He was already flanking her as she weighed her options.
By the time she decided to go down into the forest the sun was sitting and Flen was following her like a big cat closing in on its prey. Like a great cat, he played with his prey. He sensed she was better than most and decided not to underestimate her. It was this kind of caution that assured Flen of success since he stalked the first hunter who came seeking him for their trophy collection. He had no illusions. The hunters would keep coming until one day he died of old age, or carelessness. He was a universal target for so many years he lost track of time.
It was Djara’s hunter’s sixth sense that alerted her that she was in danger. She stopped walking and held her ray rifle closely. The beast was near. She saw a fleeting movement. The narrow space between each tree barely afforded a brief glance. But she knew the moment of truth was near.
Flen had no weapons. He always got by with his sheer brute strength and size. His speed is what made him the most dangerous. His ability to be on his prey in a blink of an eye was terrifying to his victims.
A dreadful recognition slowly dawned on Djara. The “beast” was a hunter just like her. She wasn’t facing a dumb creature who had been lucky thus far. It was a skilled hunter operating in his own terrain.
Her fate was sealed. Holding the ray rifle with one hand, she unclipped her last resort weapon – a grenade – and pulled the pin out just as Flen’s four arms wrapped around her!
Ludi’s three eyes watered under the bright sun. His tall slim body was protected from the brutal rays under a cloak with a hood. He was getting old. Mutants seldom lived more than 30 years – he was going on 60.
Ludi looked out at the assembled crowd before him. They were twisted versions of human beings. Children whose parents were exposed to the radioactive fallout from the nuclear war of 2057. Hundreds were sitting and standing around him in a semi-circle in what was once an outdoor stadium. Most of the concrete seats were covered in heavy vegetation. Their voices were humming in the scorching heat when he raised his long arms up and called for their attention.
“Brothers and sisters, heed my stories of the mighty Polis, for my time in telling them comes near. His adventures have become legend, and in retelling them you and yours will learn lessons in life.
“When last I talked of Polis he had just reunited with Min.She was recuperating from fighting and killing three warriors before being overwhelmed by the leader of the Snake Tribe, Geronimo. He let her live, but violated her body as a sign of contempt.
Polis had searched for her, eventually finding the area near her and Ord’s lair. She discovered him while patrolling outside the cave entrance. It was a touching moment for both, Ludi went on.
Min shared some of her jerky with Polis as they sat next to the campfire she built in the middle of the cavern, deep below a mighty mountain.
She was feeling oddly embarrassed after her show of tears. He was trying to process what they meant and the funny feeling she gave him when he looked at her lithe body. Polis lived by his own rules – some of which would surprise people – and one of them was not to intrude into a relationship…especially if they were friends. With Ord’s death things changed. He was in his prime and a viral male. She was a beautiful woman in her prime. They became lovers that day.
The next morning she told him what the snake warrior had done to her and how Ord died fighting him. Polis was enraged. He was going to put a Post Mortem party on for the Snake clan’s leader, but now he was plotting his death. Polis knew it was he after she described her attacker. They spent days discussing ways to get revenge.
Geronimo tossed the corn cob aside and reached for another one as his warriors watched and waited for him to give them orders. They sat in a semi circle on the ground facing their leader. The sun slowly rose behind him burning away the night’s chill. The silence was broken by children laughing somewhere nearby. Their mothers had been up before the day’s break cooking for everyone in the compound. The smell of roasted human flesh carried on the gentle wind.
“What do you think Sarp?” Geronimo asked one of his oldest and most trusted warriors.
“I’m not sure. Polis has always been a mysterious figure and the stuff of legends. He may have just changed his mind about putting on a Post Mortem party and got involved in something else.”
“If that’s the case then I would take itas an insult,” an angry Geronimo growled.
“There’s always a chance that something happened to him. Perhaps he was ambushed by someone seeking fame for themselves?” Sarp suggested.
Geronimo grunted in irritation that Polis had not returned in three days like he said he would. He sunk his teeth into a piece of meat and savaged it.
A week later one of Geronimo’s scouts reported that a woman had killed two of his comrades and only allowed him to live so that he could carry a message back.
“What is the message?” he demanded.
The warrior shook, clearly afraid to relay her words.
“She said that she dares you to meet her in single combat.”
“Is that all?”
The warrior visible shrunk as he went on, “No…she says she’s going to enjoy cutting your balls off and roasting them over a fire.”
Geronimo jumped to his feet and grabbed the warrior with both hands and threw him like a rag doll at the compound wall. His head split like a melon and his body collapsed in a heap.
“Call his family and tell them to burn his body before I decide to eat him!” he shouted at the small group of warriors. It was a hallow threat however, because it was taboo to eat someone in the clan. No matter what they did.
He couldn’t ignore the challenge. Slinging his sheathed sword across his back he thought of the last time they had met. He grinned at the thought of her humiliation. Tucking a war ax and knife into his broad human leather belt Geronimo set off to find her and repeat their first encounter.
When he discovered her hours later, she was standing in a clearing surrounded by rocks and trees, waiting for him. She had a slim sword and knife, and held a spear. He couldn’t help admire her wild beauty and courage. In his savage world courage did earn respect. But she couldn’t be allowed to kill his warriors or to taunt him. With a sigh he drew his curved sword and slowly advanced on her. His dark eyes glittered with murderous intent.
As he closed the distance between them she calmly leveled her spear and threw it at him with such force he barely had time to evade it! Instead of panicking at the miss she smiled and drew her slim sword.
“I have a treat for you!” she shouted.
He stopped for a moment and sensed another danger near by. His instincts were razor sharp as he turned to meet Polis who had stepped out from his concealment behind a tree. He called out to Geronimo,
“You almost killed and violated my woman!” he roared.
Geronimo looked hard at his opponent. Part of him didn’t want to face Polis in a fight to the death. The other part, the savage warrior who knew no fear, took control and parried Polis’s slashing sword. Geronimo wasn’t as tall as Polis, but he was powerful and had never been beaten in battle. Sparks stung the air as their blades collided and recoiled like living things. Soon both had gashes that bled but neither seemed to notice their wounds. They kept coming after each other in relentless rage. Twice they grappled and broke away. When their swords shattered from the brute force of the blows, they both pulled their knives and moved in a circle looking for an opening. Fast as a snake Geronimo struck first and buried his blade in Polis’s right rib! At the same time Polis plunged his knife into Geronimo’s guts. The two warriors tried to break apart while clutching the other’s knife inside of their bodies. Geronimo finally backed away and pulled the knife from his stomach before staggering a few feet and collapsing to his knees. Polis pulled the knife from out of his rib and doubled over, coughing up blood.
When he looked back up Min was standing next to Geronimo with a knife in her hand. A look of horror came over Geronimo’s grizzled face as she roughly pushed him onto his back and opened his breeches. His screams echoed throughout the forest!
Ludi was finished with his mid day meal and ready to resume telling stories to his eager audience that swelled over the days. He pulled his hood on and slowly walked back to his stage of polished granite.
“Polis is a legend for many reasons my friends,“Ludi explained.
“Many of you would not be here if it wasn’t for Polis. He’s been a champion for us, as well as others in this cruel world.
There was a time back when some of you were mewling babes on your mothers teat that mutants were hunted for sport.There are survivors of those dark times among you who were older and remember the one-man war Polis waged against your attackers.You could testify to the many lives he saved and how he never mistreated mutants. Today, I will testify for you by telling how he stopped a whole tribe from hunting us.“
Polis watched the two warriors walk across the ruined road and around the rusty remnants of what was once a car, coming toward him. They were in no hurry. When they got close enough the taller one called out to him,
“Ho there! I am Zeb, and this is King Han. We are of the Bear Clan. This is our territory your on. Explain yourself stranger,” he challenged.
Neither exhibited any emotion while waiting for his reply. The tall one was broad shouldered and heavily muscled with a sculpted torso worthy of an ancient Roman god. His ebony skin was well oiled and he only wore a loin cloth. His companion in contrast was short and frail looking. He was bald and heavily wrinkled from years of hard living. Perched on his head was a highly polished wooden crown. It had two red stones embedded into the front. His tunic was made from scrapes of cloth and fur from a bear who was long extinct. It was ratty with age and made him look more like a beggar than a leader. His narrow face and delicate jaw resembled another long extinct mammal; a rat.
“Forgive me! I saw no signsor markers,” he politely replied.
“Everyone knows this is our tribes land,” Zeb said in a deadpan voice.
Suddenly Polis saw warriors stepping out from behind buildings on all sides of him. They silently took up their positions, encircling him and waiting for a signal.
“What is your name stranger?” the King asked in a shrill voice that carried well in the silence.
“Your name means nothing to me. Why should I let you live?” the King’s squeaky voice demanded.
“Because I’m the mightiest warrior in the land” he boasted, “…and a good person to have as a friend.”
King Han liked his answer and squealed with delight, “We must test you right away! Show our mightiest warrior Zeb how skilled and powerful you are braggart!” he taunted Polis.
Polis tossed his sword and knife aside in order to meet his opponent on equal terms. Zeb was on him in a flash! He gripped Polis in a stranglehold for several seconds before Polis wedged his leg into Zeb’s and threw his weight to one side, throwing him to the ground. He didn’t wait for Zeb to recover and kicked him in the head as he tried to stand. Blood was pouring from Zeb’s broken nose as Polis bent over and throttled him to death with his bare hands. It was over so quickly everyone was stunned. Zeb never lost. But there he lay at a stranger’s feet like a broken doll. King Han blinked in surprise but recovered quickly,
“So it seems you are right. There is no one mightier than you. Come. I’ll lead you to our village and we’ll have a feast tonight.You must tell me more about yourself. Come, join us.”
Polis picked up his weapons and followed. He wasn’t surprised at all that he was tested. It was the way of the world. Man eat man. He knew he’d be having Zeb steaks tonight. The others couldn’t because it was taboo to eat one of their own. They already had caught their dinner earlier in the day after killing a couple of wanderers that had strayed into their hunting grounds.
The sun was retreating into the horizon as Ludi continued his story. His audience increased since he resumed speaking in the afternoon.
“And so it came to pass thatPolis stayed with the Bear Clan for a week until an incident came up that changed their relationship. Three warriors approached Polis one day and asked if he’d like to join them for some sport?
“He agreed to join them for a chance at some excitement. It took several hours of going through a dense forest before the group came upon two mutants – a father and his son.Before Polis could do anything his three companions fell upon the terrified duo and slaughtered them! It was a senseless act that didn’t result in getting meat for the clan, because no one ate mutants for fear of being poisoned. It was murder.
“Sickened by what he saw, he pulled his sword and slew all three warriors in a blind rage.He suffered numerous gashes and was weak from loss of blood when a mutant came upon him as he sat with his back to a tree trying to stay conscious.A gut wound from his last battle was just healing but now was seeping blood onto his lap.
“The mutant look around at the carnage. One warrior had killed the other three for some reason. Then she found two members of her family hacked to pieces nearby.She knelt down by the wounded warrior and asked him what happened? He had passed out from loss of blood. Later, after she treated his wounds he told her.
“Thus Polis became the bane of the Bear clan and lived among the mutants for a year. He ambushed hunting parties that came looking for mutants so many times that the clan finally decided they had enough, and agreed not to harm the mutants anymore if he’d stop stalking and killing them.
“This is just one of the many adventures that have led to Polis’s fame. Come back again tomorrow, and I’ll tell you another,” Ludi told his rapt audience as the cool night settled in.
Polis and Min sheltered from the merciless sun beneath an evergreen tamarisk tree. It was too hot to travel during the day.
The white dunes around them seemed to go on forever. A few hearty plants like succulents, cactus, and mesquite sporadically dotted the bleak landscape. They were lost. Hopelessly lost.
Polis stared out across the smooth undulating dunes, straining his eyes to search for any movement. They had run out of human jerky days ago and were surviving off the land. The only types of cactus that offered water they could safely digest were the prickly pear and one species of the barrel cactus – the fishhook barrel.
If not for a traveler they met before setting out across the great desert, they wouldn’t have known which cactus was safe to eat and get moisture from. He was a good story teller and minutely described the two types of cactus they could depend on if necessary.
It was Polis who wanted to see what lay beyond Death Valley, as the locals called it. He’d heard rumors of strange new people who were so far advanced that they created marvels and lived in paradise. It would be an adventure worthy of his fame. That he had a woman with him made it even better. He enjoyed companionship in this stage of his life. He’d been a loner for a long time. He wasn’t even sure how old he was, but guessed he was in his fifties based upon his fragmented memories. Min was a talker and he enjoyed listening to her.
Neither felt much like talking as they sat in the shade of the tree. They were conserving their energy so they could travel at night beneath the moon’s light.
Ludi tried to stand up, but couldn’t. His frail body was giving in to age and a hard life. His vision was blurry but he could still see the mutants who surrounded him and felt a measure of satisfaction. He had passed on all of his wisdom and kept Polis’s legend alive. The one thing he never told his audience was that he was the father of the man who was ruthlessly murdered with his son by the Bear clan.
“And so it was a time of great peril for Polis and Min as they struggled to get out of the valley of death. After losing count of how many days they traveled Min saw a mountain range and they realized the landscape was changing. It was getting a little cooler. They spotted a strand of trees and green grass at the same time. It meant there was water ahead. The moisture from the cactus gave them both problems with their guts, but it at least kept them alive. The chance people might be around was good considering how lush the country appeared to be. Neither had any meat since they ran out of their jerky weeks ago. Weak from hunger and relief they walked through the night untilthey reached the edge of the forest.“
Ludi closed his eyes for the last time. His grieving followers gathered closer to bid him farewell. The sun set slowly in the west with his now free soul.
Min and Polis had no way to boil the water from the stream but they didn’t care, and kneeled down on the bank drinking the cool water from their cupped hands. After quenching their thirst they stripped down and went into the shallow stream, soaking their tired bodies for an hour before getting out. They were exhausted and found a tree to climb up and sleep in. Both fell asleep dreaming about food.
When they woke they saw a fantastic sight in the horizon. It looked like a thriving city with humans riding in cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Polis had once seen these wonders in a book when he was young, but still stared in awe. Min’s jaw dropped at the sight of wonders she never dreamt of.
Before Polis could tell her what little he knew about the wonders a loud voice boomed below them.
“You there! Come on down! What are you doing in our forest?” a strangely dressed man demanded. He was surrounded by other men and they were all pointing strange weapons at them.
“We come in peace,” Polis reassured them as he shimmed down the tree trunk. Min joined him and the two held hands facing their interrogator.
“Welcome to New Atlantis,” their interrogator said. “I’ll need those weapons first, before we take you to our king.“
Author’s note: I’m considering another trilogy featuring Polis, Min, and a new cast of characters in a world that is the exact opposite of what they lived in.
Two campers huddled by a fire trying to stave off freezing temperatures at the lower rim of the Grand Canyon one night, when they saw quite a sight…
an old Indian was walking on air beneath the bright moonlight, casually strolling alongside the ruby red ridge without making a sound, and not even looking down…
One camper told the other who was his brother that the man they saw was Levi Levi of the Hualapai, the last great chief of the Mountain Tribe who still protects his people and gives them pride…
and who inspired a source of income that is now worldwide…
… called the Skywalk, a trail shaped like a horseshoe with a steel frame and a glass floor, to some tourists delighted horror, with sides that project 70 feet from the rim, it’s an attraction that brings them in
and the two campers let the fire dim, as they slipped into sleep dreaming of walking Skywalk’s scenic rim.