I nervously eyed the dealer as I settled into my chair. It took all of my will power to resist wiping off the ribbon of sweat that trailed down from my high forehead. I knew Frankie and Sal were watching me closely. Looking for signs of fear. Their boss, Big Boy Roy Zizzi was sitting at a nearby table sipping Bourbon and playing footsies with a red-hot blond who laughed shrilly at everything he said. I waited for someone to explain the rules of the game I was about to play.
Finally Big Boy Roy Zizzi got up and ambled over to me. His girth stretched the dress jacket to the point of tearing as he bent over and said,
“Myron my friend you’re a lucky man. I could have shot you in the back of the head and your body deposited in the desert by Frankie and Sal.But we’ve known each other for years before our little fall out here. You were my number one soldier. But your greed got the better of you. When I found out you were skimming money from two of my casinos.I had to take some swift action.The rules are simple.You get 10 chips. Bet any amount you want. But if you lose those 10 chips you get a free ride to the desert east of here.“
“Wait a moment! How can I win and save my life?“
“You have to double those 10 chips.Your dealer tonight is Belinda who just happens to be the best dealer in both of my casinos.She has a great sense of humor. So, let’s get this party started!”
I looked up and caught Belinda smiling. She seemed to be enjoying herself. I looked at the card shoe next to her hand. It held four decks. It was better than playing against one deck in my experience. Especially if there were other players at the table. But now it was just me and Belinda. I watched her quickly deal the cards. It was like watching water flow in one smooth movement.
My face card was a king. My down card was a four.She had an Ace. Her down card could be anything.Her hand hovered over the shoe as she asked me what I wanted to do?
“Stand,” I replied.
She flipped over her down card. “Eight!” she almost purred. I lost the first hand and found myself staring down at the nine remaining chips with a mounting fear.
For 12 grueling hours I managed to stay afloat but was down to two chips. After a few hours I grew to understand that she could have won every hand but kept giving me last-minute reprieves.Frankie and Sal were slumped down in two chairs by the wall and Big Boy Roy Zizzi – to his credit – was still going strong at the table with his blond bimbo.
I took a chance and bet my last two chips. I was exhausted from the tension.Belinda’s mysterious smile gave me hope. My face card was a 10. My down card was a jack. Her face card was a seven. When she turned over her down card it was a six. She drew another card. It was a queen. She busted!
“Let it ride,” I told her. And I won the next hand. And the next. I was up to 16 chips and flush with excitement when Big Boy Roy Zizzi broke away from his blond bimbo and waddled over to our table. He looked at my 16 coins. Then at Belinda. He nodded. She nodded and smiled at me.I lost.
When I walked down the street with the sign people mocked me.I carried it for years from one major city to the next, enduring the laughing and crude language stoically.
It’s a hard thing to make people aware of what’s happening in the world and a harder thing to stick to one’s own beliefs when they stand alone. I don’t remember now if I had a vision or if it was calculated guess based upon world affairs. Or climate change. It doesn’t really matter now. Does it?
I was right.
As I stocked my underground bunker over the years, I tried to think of ways to get the word out. I was a solitary sentinel sent (by who?) to break the news. But people didn’t see me as a messenger. They saw a tired old man with a limp who should probably be committed to a nice safe asylum.Everyone was moving so fast back then. Cities looked like ant colonies with people flooding the streets in steady steams of humanity that flowed in and out of buildings that stretched on for miles.I lost count of how many cities I traveled to after sixty-six. If I’d had the means I would have traveled around the world with the sign.But I didn’t. I had to use what money I could drum up over the years to build my bunker in a national forest.It was the safest place I could create.I just want you to know I tried my best to share the message, but I was limited physically and financially.
When the end finally came the earth around me convulsedfor days. Somehow my bunker survived the mighty tremors, but Idiscovered the escape hatchwas blocked. My bunker became my coffin. I’d accumulated enough supplies to last at least ten years. I’m writing this to explain what happened to me if my tomb is discovered by (future?) generations. I’ll assume someone is going to read this someday and their going to wonder why those supplies I mentioned are still here. Turns out my air intake system isn’t working (no surprise) and I’m living on the last of the oxygen in this forty-foot by twenty-foot bunker.
Ajax carefully climbed down the circular stairway inside the lighthouse until he reached the ground floor.
His seventy-year-old bones creaked with the effort as he opened the heavy oaken door to look out into the night. A choppy sea illuminated by bright stars and the moon went on for eternity. He sighed. Nostalgia washed over him like the restless surf outside as he considered his solitary existence. He looked up at the sturdy stone tower that had stood since ancient times silently guarding the coast.Watching. Waiting. Warning ships at sea.
Memories like shadows on the shore darted across his mindas he recalled 63 years ago when he and his father escaped the cities and found the lighthouse unhabituated. The war to end all wars had finally come. Mankind was nearly extinct. Ajax’s father died twenty years ago. He hadn’t seen another human since. But, in his heart, he felt there had to be more survivors somewhere on the planet. The thought helped him wake up in the mornings after dreaming about making contact again with another human. It stopped him from sporadically screaming in frenzied fits like the early days after his father died. Without this last hope he would have walked out into the turbulent breakers and disappeared long ago.
Ajax started a diary two years after his father passed away while sleeping in the lighthouses crude bed. He was nine years old at the time. His father had taught him to read and write and he was an eager learner. He started with observations after going on long walks along the rugged coast. After a year he started sharing inner thoughts and desires. The diary took on a life and he held many in-depth conversations with it. The years were scattered across numerous notebooks that he stacked up next to his bed on a bench. The writing was small in order to conserve space.
The notebooks came from what was once a school about a mile from the lighthouse. Inside the rubble Ajax found blank notebooks, boxes of pencils, chalk, and small jars of acrylic paint. He wrapped his loot up with a torn and faded American flag from a classroom that was still standing and walked back to the lighthouse with a light step. It was a good day.
Food was never a problem. His father who was a master forager and gardener had discovered a patch of fertile ground inlandwithin easy access. He planted potatoes, vegetables and wheat and they always had something to eat.There were no animals to hunt. They too had disappeared. It was a good diet that helped them to stay healthy.The storeroom was always well stocked.
The lighthouse was a beacon of hope for Ajax. He lit the fire in the dome every nightwith wood gathered along the coast. He imagined someday someone would see it and sail to him. Guided by the light.And during the day he looked out the thin windows at the panorama that stretched for miles, disappearing into a mountain range that always had a blanket of snow on the top. It was graced with green fields. Lush rows of berry bushes. It was full of trees and streams, but without any life that he could see. Despite that he looked out every day hoping to see movement.Any sign of life.
One-night hours after setting the blaze in the tower Ajax was gazing at the dark purplish horizon when he saw some lights flicker momentarily! A steady row of lights appeared shortly afterward, and he felt his pulse race with excitement.They had to be ships. Not one, but three were moving steadily in the direction of the lighthouse.His heart was racing as he scrambled down the circular staircase and stepped outside the door. He wasn’t worried about how he looked. The rags that hung on his slim frame were fine. He doubted the new arrivals would make much of his long beard and tattered toga. He felt giddy that his dreams appeared to become real and that in a matter of hours he would be talking with another human!
“Ahoy, captain! A lighthouse ahead!”
Captain Igor Malinski grunted in satisfaction. His warship, an old battleship from the eastern bloc, had destroyed every lighthouse along the entire coastline as ordered. Or so they thought until a scout ship reported Ajax’s lighthouse.
As the sun rose slowly over the horizon Ajax woke up and could see three ships. He was too excited to get something to eat and stretched his skinny arms upward, eyes upward, welcoming the light. He didn’t see the huge cannons pivoting towards him.
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.
The gathering around the campfire was diverse and grotesque. They were mutants whose parents survived the nuclear war of 2057. Their grotesque bodies had extra limbs. Some with no limbs that looked more like worms than humans. Their tortured flesh were portraits of nightmares yet undreamed. Some with heads of animals long extinct. Blank faces with only mouths. Some exceptionally tall, and others stunted dwarfs a mere three-feet in height. Some of the odd company had horns, and or, tails.
One of them was speaking. Telling stories and tales of mankind’s travails in the last century. He was tall, slim, and had a long gray beard. His face was scaly like a snake’s with three bulging eyes that always seemed surprised because they were so large and never blinked. He was Ludi, keeper of stories and legends. An honored member among the loose coalition of mutants that lived in what use to be southern California, and northern California.
Long before Ludi was born, there was a division between normal humans, and their mutant offspring. Families raised their mutated offspring separately, in little communities run by volunteers who raised them until they were adults when they were forced to go out on their own and survive. The main thing that saved them from extermination in a man-eat-man world was the fear their flesh was poisonous. The other thing that worked in their favor was they were not meat-eaters. They survived on almost anything that could be grown. It was another reason to let them live; they didn’t compete for meat. In this new primordial pecking order mutants co-existed at the bottom of the food chain. Another factor was they did have powerful warriors who were often the match of normal human warriors.
In essence, mutants seldom clashed with human clans, and sometimes even allied themselves with individuals or clans for mutual benefit. Their tenacious ties involved a mutual history, going back before mankind went mad and unleashed holocausts across the planet.
Ludi was telling the small gathering a story about Polis. A legend in his own time, and said to be still roaming the north American continent. Polis’s Post Mortem parties were the stuff of rich tales full of adventure and action.
“So Polis uncovered the body for the Skull clan to examine and try to guess how he was killed. There were 60 people sitting on a great table that the head of the clan, the Great Skullton, had made for the special event. Then there was a communal gasp as everyone recognized the centerpiece of the night’s party.
“Unknown to Polis, the body on display was Lut, the son of the Great Skullton!”
“What did the Great Skullton do when he saw his son lying there dead?” one of the eager listeners asked.
Ludi paused and looked up into the clear night sky. A meteor flashed across the stars and he shivered against the cold, moving closer to the fire before resuming his story.
“The Great Skullton’s horror quickly turned to rage!His hopes for a dynasty were as dead as his son whose body was becoming putrid under the merciless sun.
Polis quickly understood the situation he was in. There was no way he could fight his way out past that many warriors. Legend or no legend. The Great Skullton was standing and screaming terrible curses at him when Polis jumped up onto the table, and launched himself into Skullton’s massive chest with such force he drove him backwards and to the ground. Before anyone could stop him he drove his knife into the clan leader’s bare throat! Turning to the clan members, Polis claimed his victor’s right to free passage. There was a sense of relief as the warriors stepped aside and let him leave unharmed.He was not a beloved leader and wouldn’t be missed.”
A female voice broke the silence, “What happen to Min? Did Polis ever meet up with her again?“
Ludi sighed and replied, “Yes, they did get together and had many exciting adventures that are already considered legendary. They even became lovers. But that’s a story for another day.Meanwhile, we’re going to need more wood, it promises to be a frigid night.”
Polis grew up in a loosely knit community on what use to be the east coast of the United States. His people were nomadic hunters who avoided organized tribes but were sometimes forced into contact which resulted in blood-letting, producing meat for both sides.
He was exceptionally tall, even as a child. While he was fully capable of bullying his peers he seldom chose to. He was a loner whose wanderlust was finally realized after an attack on the hunting camp where he and his parents lived.
They were slain in the early moments of the massacre. He was 14-years-old when his outnumbered tribe was slaughtered. Taking a sword from a dead attacker, Polis tried to defend his mother but she was struck down by a knife from behind by a howling warrior! He slew her killer with a mighty swing that nearly decapitated him. Looking around frantically for his father he spotted him but it was too late. He was surrounded and had suffered grievous wounds. When a spear pierced his chest and came out of his back, Polis turned and ran.
A trio of warriors pursued him but were unable to keep up with his blistering pace and gave up after an hour. When he saw they had given up the chase he stopped and raised his sword over his head then pointed it at them with a theatrical gesture as the sun set behind him.
Min was glad to be alive. Her opponents had wounded her in numerous places and she had fought Geronimo the head of the Snake Clan who nearly killed her, but chose to humiliate her instead.
Days before, after slaying three snake warriors Min had turned on Geronimo who had just beheaded her longtime lover and friend Ord. She charged him recklessly in a rage and he used her momentum to send her flying off balance and onto the forest floor where her head made an audible thud on the ground!
Geronimo bent over her and grabbed her long hair, pulling her head painfully upright. He looked into her blurred eyes and saw she still had fight left despite being stunned. In spite of himself, he was impressed by her fiery attitude and courage.
“I’m not going to kill you,” he said standing up. “I’ll leave that to someone else, but you must pay a price to remember me by,” he said while unlacing his breeches.
She barely remembered the violation of her body as she sank in and out of consciousness. Before Geronimo left he pulled out his knife and drew a small line on her right cheek in blood. She didn’t even whimper.
Min touched the now healed cut and wondered what she would do next. It finally came to her that she needed to return to Ord and hers lair. There were supplies there. She needed time to think about her next move and to recuperate. Thankful that she still remembered her way around the land after her concussion she set off in a steady mile-eating pace.
Polis’s pale blue eyes stared from the concealment of a tree, intently focusing on two travelers that passed blissfully unaware of his presence below. He didn’t recognize what tribe they belonged to and it troubled him. He’d traveled thousands of miles in his lifetime from one ocean to another, and thought he knew all the tribes. It humbled him for a moment and made him realize there were still places he hadn’t explored. Ruins yet undiscovered with mysterious machines and technology long forgotten.
It made him smile. Then he decided to follow the two men.
Geronimo had returned from the ill-fated hunting party in a dark mood over the loss of his three warriors. He ordered six warriors to accompany him in reclaiming the bodies for proper burial. The remains were respectively burned into ashes and placed in pottery jars of clay for each family. Geronimo mourned them, but found his mind wandering to Min and asking himself if he should have let her live? Would his spur of the moment urge be his demise? He shrugged his fate off to the fickle gods of chaos and consoled the families of the deceased.
When Polis saw the two men were nearing an enclosure that was swarming with men and women working on the walls of a tribal compound in the hot sun he held back in the shade of the forest line.
There were so many they looked like ants crawling over the ruins of once mighty buildings covered in vegetation. They were using man-powered wooden carts to carry chunks of marble and granite. The carts with their wooden wheels caught Polis’s eye and he stared for nearly an hour in wonder as the construction continued until the burning sun went down and the laborers disappeared inside the growing compound walls. There was one main gate guarded by two burly warriors armed with swords and battle-axes. Polis calculated he was at least a foot taller than both of them.
His curiosity demanded he investigate. It was time to introduce himself and see if they had ever heard of him. He walked boldly towards the main gate under the bright full moon. The guards saw him and snapped into defensive positions, challenging him.
“Who are you?” one demanded unceremoniously while the other unsheathed his sword.
“A traveler. Perhaps you’ve heard of me? My name is Polis.”
“I doubt it,” his inquisitor grumbled, but turned to the other guard with his sword out and told him to get Geronimo.
“You wait here, but don’t get too comfortable because your meat would be welcomed right now if our leader isn’t impressed by your swagger.”
An hour passed before Geronimo arrived at the gate and walked right up to Polis. He calmly looked up at the taller man with interest and no fear.
“I may have heard stories about you. You say you are the Polis who puts on Post Mortem parties for entertainment?“
“Good! Come to my campfire and we shall talk about meat and other juicy things!”
The guards closed the gate as the two men entered. One turned to the other and grumbled, “So, what’s the big deal?“
Back in her lair, Min took her time healing and planning revenge against Geronimo. Several of the cuts she suffered required stitches. Afterward she smeared an herbal ointment on the wounds to aide recovery. She was no stranger to physical wounds having suffered many in her thirty-eight years of life. None more damaging however than the mental wound of being raped and cast aside like trash.
Vengeance can be a terrible thing. Sometimes one has to pay a terrible price for getting satisfaction. She was ready to sacrifice her life if it meant killing the warrior who defiled her. Without Ord, who was both her lover and best friend, she felt adrift for the first time in years. Grief settled over her like a mantle as she slept fitfully in the solitude of the cavern.
In Min’s dreams she saw herself as a toddler.
An old woman had found her wandering in the deep forest naked and afraid. She took her back to a wooden shack that was covered with prickly vines and deadly fruits. The first thing she taught Min was not to eat the fruits and how to avoid the vines sharp thorns when entering the humble abode.
She was an orphan with no story. The old woman took care of her for ten years before dying from a mysterious illness. It was at that time she met Ord as a young teenager with no knowledge of the deadly world around her. He stumbled upon her picking corn from a little plot of land that also had yams and potatoes. His height frightened her and she turned to run.
“No! Don’t go! I won’t hurt you. I’m wounded and starving,” he cried out.
She stopped and turned around to look at the intruder. It was the tone of his voice. Lost and afraid like she once was that convinced her he was safe and not a threat.
“What is your name?” she asked while walking up to him.
“Ord. They call me Ord,” he replied in obvious pain.
When she saw the blood dripping down his right shoulder and bicep she closed the gap between them and gently took his good arm and led him through the vines and into the shack’s dim interior. He had to get down on his knees to crawl through the front door because he was so tall. Inside, Min moved some wooden slates aside and opened the window for lighting. Ord leaned back against the wall and passed out before he could thank her. It made things easier. He’d feel no pain as she sewed up the deep gash and put ointment on it.
Thus they became lovers and best friends. For twenty years they traveled together. Ord taught her how to fight using everything from a spear to a knife. He trained her for a decade before declaring she was the best all-around warrior. He was a humble man who did anything she asked of him. He introduced meat into her diet. She only had a faint memory of eating meat when extremely young. Far from from repulsing her, she discovered she liked the addition of red meat. The fact that it was human meat didn’t trouble her, she was a product of the times. Survival meant eating well.
One of the things Min loved about Ord was his knowledge. He claimed he could read books. When he explained what they were and how they had knowledge of many things she was fascinated. He told her about animals long gone that were once sources of meat. He described how aliens from other worlds came and fought with mankind for decades and how they became a source of meat when there were no more animals to consume.
He told her of mighty cities and buildings bigger than anything she could imagine that lay in ruins across the entire world. She got dizzy with delight when he told her stories about cars, planes, and trains. Sometimes she thought he made stories up at times just to shock and surprise her. It was okay. She enjoyed every day with him.
Now Ord was dead. His body no doubt meat for the warrior’s clan. A tear slipped down one eye surprising her. It never happened before. Before she knew it she was crying her heart out and howling with grief!
Polis raised his rough clay mug of potato alcohol to Geronimo and toasted him,
“May you live forever and have many fine sons!” he bellowed good-naturedly and drank the contents in one gulp and jumped up and pulled his sword.
Geronimo and his favorite warriors were sitting in a circle around the campfire in the center of the compound watching Polis wield his sword like a living thing in a dance of death fueled by the fiery alcohol. They were mesmerized at his slick swordsmanship, unlike anything they had ever seen before. His dark muscles shimmered with sweat and his long black hair flew in all directions as he twisted and turned so fast the naked eye could barely follow his moves. Drums were beating in the background seemingly in synch with his mad gyrations. Geronimo watched him with slit eyes fighting to stay awake. He had drunk vast quantities of the liquor, but didn’t dare get up and go to his bed now. He had to wait until the madman and legend was done with his dance.
The next morning around the now dead campfire.
“Would you honor us with a Post Mortem party?” Geronimo asked as the sun rose over the nearby mountains.
Polis stood up and stretched his thickly corded arms and replied, “The last time I threw a Post Mortem party things didn’t go so well,” he admitted.
“Oh! What happened?” Geronimo pressed.
“Let’s just say there was a big misunderstanding. I take it you haven’t heard the story?
“We are new to this area and just becoming aware of other tribes,” Geronimo explained.
“I see. When would you like to hold the party? A special occasion perhaps?”
Geronimo who didn’t want to admit that he had a pounding headache said he would consult the tribe’s elders and get back to him soon.
“That’s fine,” Polis said. “I have some unfinished business and will come back in a few days. You can tell me then when you want to hold the Post Mortem party.”
“Good. Now I must go and supervise the building of the walls,” Geronimo concluded the conversation.
As Polis picked his way through jungles that were once parks and neighborhoods, he wondered what happened to Ord and Min? The last time he saw them they were waiting for him at the base of a tree.
When he finally located the statue of the unknown sailor he knew he was getting close. They had blindfolded him when he was first brought to their lair, but he felt his tracking abilities as a hunter would guide him there anyway. He studied the landscape and then set out looking for signs of trails.
Min had just fetched a bucket of water from the nearby stream and was boiling it just outside the cave entrance when she heard something. Grabbing her spear and long knife she set out to find what alerted her. She moved slowly but surely through dense bushes and trees listening. She saw Polis before he saw her!
Overcome with relief she broke her cover and called out to him,
“Polis! It’s me! Min!“
He stopped and looked in her direction. A big smile lit his face as he recognized her. Mission accomplished. She surprised him by giving him a big hug. Something she’d never done before. He held her and felt her heart hammering away.
“I have much to tell you Polis,” she said.
“And I have a story for you Min.” he acknowledged, still hugging her.