Archive for: October, 2012

The Downfall By D. Robert Grixti

Oct 28 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

1. The Mirror

Here is a middle aged man. He is standing in front of a large mirror in an unkempt washroom. His greying hair is dishevelled, as if he has just climbed out of bed, and a five o’ clock shadow darkens the bottom half of his face.

He is leaned in close to the mirror, flexing his face muscles and contemplating the minute movements in the glass. His right hand holds a razor, and the left, a bottle of shaving cream. He sighs softly and continues to study his wrinkles. He has a face of cracked stone.

The surface of the mirror is flecked with spots of dirt and grime. The man smiles grimly as he scratches some of it off with the tip of his fingernail. Underneath, he sees a patch of stubble. Still smiling, he lathers his hands with shaving cream and drowns the tiny strands of hair in snow.

The trees growing out of his face wilt in the cold, and then he cuts them down.

 

2. The Meeting

A train pulls into the busy station. As it comes to a halt, steel floodgates open and a coloured blur spills out onto the platform. A mass of lives tangle together and a singular entity ascends the stairs to the street above.

The middle aged man, now in a grey business suit, breaks off from the crowd and stops by a payphone. He fumbles in his pocket for change and then drops a fifty cent piece into the slit on the receiver. Machinery grinds and his fifty cents re-emerge in the coin return.

There’s a piece of paper taped above the receiver. Messy handwriting reads ‘dollar coins only.’ The man swears.

A young woman with radiant hair appears at the payphone next to him. He gives her a sideways glance, and she flashes him a flirtatious smile.

The man points to the ring on his fourth finger and shakes his head sadly.

She continues smiling.


3. The Battle

The man is alone in an office cubicle. A stern woman with an all knowing glare stares at him from a photograph on his desk. Grim faced, he picks it up and turns it around.

The photograph is not allowed to watch him. He is fighting a battle.

“You’ll never win,” taunts a demon, one voice from a jumble of disjointed faces that circle him slowly, menacingly, waiting for him to lower his guard.

For the man, what’s at stake is the right to live, or at least it seems that way. In reality, all he faces is not knowing what could have happened, and for him, that isn’t really living at all.

“You’re a coward, too weak,” growls the demon, as the forces of darkness close in. “Too stupid to fight for what’s yours.”

In the distance, an obsidian cliff towers overhead. Watching from its precipice is the girl from the payphone, entranced by the standoff, silently cheering the man on.

The sight of her empowers him.

He laughs defiantly at the demon, withdraws his sword from its sheath, and strikes.

 

4. The Hands

The man waits in a cheap motel room. He sits on a lumpy bed that has been claimed by countless others and thinks about a forbidden rendezvous.

He finds himself passing time by contemplating the state of the room. The outdated wallpaper is faded and stained with the remnants of rot and mildew. He decides that it would be nearly impossible to clean.

On top of his briefcase on the bedside table, his phone vibrates. He leans over and reads the name displayed on the screen, then shakes his head and turns it off. Now it is dead.

As he lies back on the mattress, he feels a tingling in both his wrists, and then his hands wrench themselves off his arms and scuttle away from him like spiders.

“You’ll oppress us no longer!” shouts Mr. Left as he makes a rude gesture.

“You bit off all my nails, you bastard!” cries Mr. Right, who takes hold of a steak knife left over from dinner. “And you subjected me to all those sexual misdeeds!”

“Wait, why is this happening?” the man begins to ask, confused, but his sentient digits are not in the mood to listen.

“Down with the oppressor!” they both shout, and Mr. Right lops off his head.

The man’s disembodied head watches from the foot of the bed as the hands cut open his torso and carve out his heart. Once it is free, Mr. Right carries it over and dangles it cruelly in front of his eyes.

“Finally!” the heart exclaims, laughing. “I’m free of the tyranny of the brain.”

The three guffaw in delight, revelling in their victory.

Someone knocks loudly on the motel room’s door.

The man passes out.

 

5. The Seed

When he returns home, the man’s wife gives him a seed of sickly green and commands him to make it grow.

He plants it in the garden that lines the front of their house and waters it with his tears. It takes him a few tries to find out how to make it grow correctly; the first time it sprouts, it becomes a Venus flytrap that bites off his arm, and the second, it evolves into a deadly nightshade that melts off his face with a cloud of acidic pollen.

“It’s your own damn fault,” his wife chides as she watches him writhe in pain. “You’re supposed to put work into it if you want it grow. You’re supposed to make an effort. It won’t turn into a flower on its own.”

He vows that the next time he will do it properly, feeding the seed with a steady torrent of misery.

The seed grows and grows. He starts to water it with his blood and sweat, as well. It likes that, relishing it with some sinister delight as it slowly gets bigger and bigger.

The next morning, the man awakes to find a tiny seedling. He knows it will finish growing soon. He retreats to the garden shed, retrieves a hand-saw from the wooden board on the wall, and chops off his remaining limbs. He tosses them to the growing plant and then retires to bed from exhaustion.

When the grey sun rises the next day and drains the colour out of everything, he goes outside to see that the seed has finished growing at last.

It is a rose with blood red petals.

 

6. The Wife

“You didn’t do it right,” the man’s wife says, observing the rose with contempt. “You’re completely useless.”

The man, weeping at her feet, apologises and offers grow the seed again.

“No,” his wife says, tearing her wedding ring off and tossing it violently to the ground beside him. “No more chances. I’ve had enough. I’m leaving.”

She picks up a leather suitcase and walks to the curb, where she climbs into a waiting taxicab.

“Wait!” the man shouts, reaching out for her as he tries to climb to his feet.

The taxicab’s wheels begin to turn, and she flips him the bird through the window.

“Don’t contact me,” she spits.

Now she is gone.

 

7. The Payphone

A train pulls into the station again. This time, it is the weekend, and only one man trickles out onto the platform. He immediately ascends the stairs to the street, and stops at the payphone that eats dollar coins.

He rests for a moment, leaning on the side of the telephone. Blurs of faceless people pass him without looking, some traversing the street in cars with tinted windows, others congregating in excited groups, chatting about the movie that just played in the cinema and still others walking alone, keeping their heads down and ignoring the man as they pass; many lives, many paths, none of them intersecting with his.

He sighs sadly and looks into the sky, as if expecting some Sun God to appear and give him an answer. Glass skyscrapers loom above him, reaching so high as to block out the sun, and cast him in their shadow.

He is nothing.

He turns to the payphone and inserts a fifty cent piece into the slot.

It immediately drops down into the coin return.

He quickly glances at the scrap of paper that is still taped there, then retrieves the silver coin and returns it to his wallet.

The young woman doesn’t appear beside him this time.

He fishes a gold dollar coin out of his change purse, feeds it to the telephone, and dials a number.

He listens to it ring for two whole minutes, before the phone disconnects.

He takes his dollar from the coin return, hurls it angrily at the curb, and climbs down the stairs back into the subway.

 

 8. The Letter

The man sits in the front seat of his car, parked on a cliff overlooking the city as the sun sets on the horizon.

A small revolver rests in his lap, loaded with two bullets. In his hands, he holds a letter written on pink paper, marked with a smudge of lipstick.

The young woman with the radiant hair smiles cheekily at him in a snapshot taped to the footer. She’s wearing nothing but a brassiere made of black lace.

In anger, the man crumples up the letter and tosses it out of the window.

He takes the revolver into his right hand, turns off the safety, then places it back down on the dashboard.

He sits in silence and watches pinpricks of light slowly turn on across the city below.

He wonders what he should do.

 

9. The Sun God

“There’s only one way to make it better now,” the Sun God says softly, taking the gun from the dashboard and thrusting it into the man’s arms.

“Are you sure?” the man asks, a tear rolling down his cheek. “I just want everything to go back to how it was.”

“It’s beyond repair now,” the Sun God says, shaking his head. “You want your world back, you have to fight for it. Go and take it back.”

Another tear rolls down the man’s face as he nods. He knows the Sun God is right.

“I’ll- I’ll do it,” he finally stammers.

The Sun God doesn’t answer; he’s vanished, just as suddenly as he appeared.

The man is alone now.

 

10. The End

Emptiness.

A dead, soulless world, painted in a tinge of sickly grey. Not a place, but a shade, a revenant of what once was. Ruinous bastions of a lost civilisation reach into the sky on the horizon like eldritch spires, blocking out a waning sun that shines cold light onto a frozen tundra.

Thick layers of snow blanket the burnt ground as if to hide it like a mess swept under a rug. Skeletal remains, desperate to not be forgotten, jut out of the ice, their waterlogged fingers grasping for the toxic air, seeking freedom that cannot be theirs.

Above, a forgotten city street curves into a mountain made of rubble. Towering edifices, once glorious constructs of glass and silver, reduced to pillars of dirty concrete by a century of neglect line the snow-covered road, haunted by ghosts of the old world, emotions given sentience by those long dead: fear, sadness, anger, confusion. Misery writ large.

Clocks are stopped at the thirteenth hour. This world belongs to the past. Despair and loneliness proliferate wherever the phantoms of humanity weep, bravely establishing new frontiers in a fallen world left behind just for them. They are the new humanity.

High above, from a platform suspended in Heaven, the last man on Earth watches and cries. This is his doing. This is his bittersweet victory. This is mankind’s legacy.

“I just want to die!” he screams at the Sun God.

“Just let me be with everyone else!”

From somewhere beyond his bedroom door, he hears careful footsteps gathering.

His sobbing stops and he turns to face the portal, startled. Have they come for him?

A single knock, reverberating through the room.

Someone else is here.

###

 

D. Robert Grixti is a speculative and horror fiction writer from Melbourne, Australia. His influences include Stephen King, John Wyndham and H.P Lovecraft. His work has appeared in Imagine Literary Journal, Crossfire Magazine, Black Petals, Flashes In The Dark, The Eunoia Review and more. He loves the dark, macabre and bizarre. He hopes to blend the best of literary and genre fiction in his writing and, through this, encourage others to find meaning in the written word.

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Human/Nature By Mireille Wells

Oct 21 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

I need to get inside the building.

The formerly white structure is now veined with greenish brown mold. The windows are all black squares, decorated with shards of broken glass. I stand and watch, but nothing moves inside the building. This is all that remains of the laboratory where I labored to end the world.

I did not know that would be the result, of course. Scientific research can have many applications. I was simply investigating chemical compounds that fuel cell growth. My research could have led to cancer therapies or increased food yields. I can’t be held responsible for the government’s choice to apply my findings in another manner.

Evidence of their choice surrounds me. The building is in shadow, for the sun is blocked out by the gargantuan trees looming above. These are not normal trees. Some are twisted and vine-like, other are merely a collection of cancerous bulges. Then there is the field of chest-high weeds, dandelions like misshapen sunflowers. So much for the beautifully manicured lawn.

My hands feel cold and stiff. I look down and realize that I have been gripping the metal bars of the iron fence surrounding the building. There was no fence when I worked here. Back then, we counted on a nondescript appearance and locked doors for our security. This fence must have been added later, after I was transferred to another facility.

Enough reminiscing; I came here for a reason. I climb the fence, quickly pulling myself up. Halfway down the other side, I set my foot down and miss. I dangle in space for a moment before I fall. As I lay in the dirt, stunned from the impact, a pair of shoes appears in my line of vision. I struggle to sit up but it is too late, the person is already in front of me. I think I recognize him.

“John?” I ask.

He doesn’t respond, not even by looking down at me. His clothes are tattered and his hair is matted.

“Hey, John? Do you remember me?”

He is still not responding. His empty gaze is proof, as if I need any, that the compounds I developed have unexpected consequences.

“So, John, things are looking pretty bad now, huh?”

I don’t have time for this, but it might be dangerous to turn my back on him.

“What if I told you I can fix it? There are chemicals that I’ve synthesized, in that lab. I think…” I hesitate before saying, “I think I can make a cure.”

He is still silent. I find myself raising my voice.

“John, I know I screwed everything up.”

He finally responds.

“I’m hungry,” he says. There is no inflection in his voice. The old John is gone, perhaps, but there is somebody in there. I do feel sorry for him.

“You know, I think there may be food inside the building. Do you think you could take me to a door? Maybe we could find something for you to eat.”

John stares into space for a moment, then nods.

I follow him along a path, that, if I remember correctly, will lead us around the building to the front door. The plant life around us almost obscures what was once a broad sidewalk. It is impossible to avoid all the brambles as we walk past, but I try, shuffling to one side or the other to evade the thorns.

We round a corner and pass what I think must have been a raspberry bush. The branches are all bent and cracking from the weight of its many overripe berries. Flies buzz around the fetid red flesh. In the past, those berries would have fallen off the bush long before this point.

John looks back, sees me gagging and asks, “Why are you making that noise?”

I answer, “The smell. I can’t help it,” before another spasm overtakes me.

We walk on, but the memory of this place back when those berries were first fruiting haunts me. This space was intended to be another kind of laboratory, a source of specimens, but I always thought of it as a retreat from work. It was my refuge from the sterile white lab and the punishing hours I spent working there. When my hands were shaking from exhaustion or my brain was too tired and muddled to analyze anymore results, I would step outside and draw deep breaths of fresh air. I would stroll down these paths and relish the feeling of moving my body and resting my mind. I certainly wasn’t ever thinking of the connection between my research and the plants that I passed.

I don’t think John was ever so short-sighted. He never seemed to stop examining the world around him. If I ever spotted him in this garden, he was always leaning over to look at things growing close to the ground. I can only guess what must have happened to him. I know my former bosses decided to test the fruits of my research. John must have still been working here when it happened.

I bump into John’s back. He has abruptly stopped. His eyes are focused on a log bearing mushrooms ahead of us.

They are thriving in this new, foul environment. Judging from their fan-like shape it looks like they may have been oyster mushrooms, a common culinary species, before contamination. Now each mushroom is the same size as, or larger than, my head.

John reaches out and breaks off one of the caps. The loud snap makes me flinch. He examines it, turning it over and over in his hand. John was a mycologist before, so it makes sense that he wants to look at some fungi. The fact that he is examining anything gives me hope. If he is capable of expressing curiosity, it may be possible to cure him.

So it is with reluctance that I say, “Look, I’m not sure we really have time for this…”

There is a sudden rustling in the bushes, and I instinctively grab John’s arm and duck down. John drops the mushroom carelessly and turns his languid gaze to my face.

I am unsure what is causing that noise, but knowing the effect that my research had upon the plants, I fear an animal is following us. Or something that was once an animal.

Still holding John’s forearm, I back away from the bushes, walking slowly to avoid making any sound. I bump into the wall, and I put my hand back to brace myself. My palm meets smooth metal, rather than the building’s rough stucco, and I turn in astonishment. I have found the building’s front door.

I forget everything for a moment, and turn to tug on the doorway with both hands. The door remains locked. I try slamming into the door to break it open and nearly break my shoulder. I wish I knew how to pick locks. I wish I had dynamite to blow the door open. I need to get inside, and I do not have much time.

I am still tugging on the door handle, cursing, when John bumps into me and knocks me down.

I look up at him as he continues to back away, and I ask, “Where are you -”

A giant paw lands on the door, creating a huge boom as the animal’s weight slams into the metal. I scramble to my feet and stare in horror at the silvery claws scraping away right where my head was a few seconds ago. The beast turns and snarls at us.

We run.

It feels like John is tugging on my hand. I turn back, and realize his weight is pulling me back because he has stopped running. Out of breath now, I slow to a walk and let him go.

We are still on the path. We must have stuck to the beaten ground instinctively as we ran away. At this point the path is several meters away from the walls, and from this vantage point I can see that some of the building is missing. A large piece of ceiling and sidewall has rotted away, leaving open space in place of the building’s corner.

I leave the path and jump into the brush, running again. I have to stop and wrestle with vines blocking my way, and kick the bushes blocking me until I create a hole I can get through. John follows me, but he does not move to help. Finally, I reach the back of the building and discover an open air cathedral.

The gaps in the walls and high ceiling let in many spotlights of light. This hallway was ugly under flickering florescent lights, but now the sunlight makes this institutional corridor almost pleasant. My shoes make noise against the tile floor, and then fall silent again as I reach sections where the tile has given way to dirt and wild grasses. I reach a point where the building is more hole than wall. Here, almost the entire exterior is gone, but some interior walls still extend out, dividing the ruins of what were once individual labs. I step over a knee-high coiled mass of vines in order to enter one of these labs.

I turn to John, asking, “Did you know this was here?”

He doesn’t respond, as usual, but I’m too happy to care. I walk over to the cracked counter, still cluttered with a microscope, a bunsen burner and various beakers. I pull open the attached drawers and cabinets. This station seems to contain everything that I will need, neatly bottled and labeled. Is that handwriting mine? Or does it belong to someone else, someone like John who can no longer write?

A branch snaps, somewhere in the forest. I drop the bottle and move quickly to drag John closer to me. The beast steps over the vines and looks right at us. The fur around its mouth is dark with blood and drool.

I glance around and notice a large fire extinguisher lying on the ground to my right. I edge sideways, dragging John with me. The beast does not move its head to follow us. Instead, it keeps staring straight ahead. It seems confused.

I pick up the metal container. I’m tired of being chased.

“Aaaah!” I scream as I swing the metal. I’m surprised at how easy it is; the beast never even turns before sinking to its knees. Then it falls over and I notice how much blood there is.

“You killed it,” John says.

I am stunned. I’ve always hated violence.

“Well,” I snap, “why did it have to attack us? The chemicals they released didn’t cause aggressive behavior.”

“It was hungry,” John says simply as he sinks to the ground and starts clawing at the beast’s side. He pulls up a bloody piece of meat.

“Oh, god!” I cry. “Stop that! John, look you may not remember this but that’s dangerous, and, and well, wrong and you should stop it…” I trail off and stare sadly at the back of John’s bobbing head.

I march back to the counter and stuff bottles into my coat pockets, trying to ignore the sounds coming from that corner of the room. I’m leaving. I’m not going to stand around here any longer, I need to get back and I don’t have much time…

I stumble back towards the path, and this time nothing follows me. I break into a run when I see the gate and the sunshine behind it.

On the other side of the gate, a man waits, leaning on his truck. He has greasy hair, a few days worth of stubble on his face and a gold chain. His leather jacket does not quite conceal his gut. I am annoyed at the necessity of dealing with someone who looks like such a criminal.

His eyes widen when he notices me on the other side of the gate.

“I didn’t expect you to come from that direction.” He shoots the lock off the gate so I don’t have to clamber over the top again.

“You’re late,” he drawls.

“I tried to hurry.”

We are interrupted by a harsh bird-like caw. The man turns to stare off in the distance, resting his hand on his gun. The sound is faint and faraway, but it makes me shudder to imagine its source.

The man turns back to me with a smile on his face. “Things sure are a lot more exciting these days, aren’t they?” he says.

Crazy and a criminal. “Can we wrap this up and get the hell out of here?”

“Oh, don’t be so grumpy. All this green stuff is kind of pretty, its got me in a sunny mood.” He notices my unbelieving stare and shrugs. “Alright, let’s see what you got.”

I pull bottles out of my jacket and lay them out in piles.

I point at the first pile and say, “These three together will make a powerful explosive.” I point at the next group. “These two, when mixed, will make a gas that is dense enough to conceal your movements. But you should be careful; the gas will produce small amounts of neurotoxins and become dangerous after a few minutes.”

“Well, thanks for the warning,” he says as he leans over to collect the bottles.

“Where’s my payment?” I ask.

He reaches in his pocket and hands me my money. I count it, feeling the whisper of paper. I’m amazed that we can still use these bills, considering all the other trappings of civilization that we have lost. I can still trade them in places, though, once I get far away from this cursed spot.

Money in hand, I look at back at the crumbling building behind the gate. John is back there somewhere, in the building where I used to avoid asking questions.

The criminal has collected his bottles and is climbing into his truck to leave.

“Wait,” I say. “What are you going to do with those? Why do you need weapons?”

He turns on the engine. “Ah b’lieve,” he says, “that is none of your business.”

He doesn’t offer me a ride. I’m not sure where I’m headed, anyway, but I guess I should start walking. I should at least get out of this forest. The bird-thing’s noise has started to get a little louder.

 

 

Author Biography:

Mireille Wells is a young author enjoying the bohemian life in Portland, OR.  Her short story “Red Shoes” was published in the April 2011 issue of The Pedestal Magazine. Another of her stories, “Perception” will appear in an upcoming issue of The Waterhouse Review. She has traveled to four continents, and now she uses her  travels as inspiration. She currently at work on a novel set in modern Egypt and several short stories.

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The Hunt By John Krissilas

Oct 14 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

“I’ve got you now!”

A long bead of sweat slowly worked its way down my throbbing forehead as I struggled to focus on the prize before me. Squinting through the lens of my hunting rifle’s sight, I shifted the crosshairs to my right until the great beast filled my view in all of its glory. Its dark hooves dug into the low grass as it shifted its massive weight, while its long, billowing tail swatted away the half-dozen flies that buzzed around its rear. I suddenly made a conscious effort to slow my breathing. I swallowed hard, and concentrated all of my energy and attention on this behemoth of an animal–my prey.

I had been tracking it for several kilometers, I reminded myself, and finally, finally my patience had paid off. This is it. The animal was pausing to graze, confident that it was free from danger, unaware of the fact that I’d been watching and waiting. It was a beautiful, Grade-A Canadian Bison, and after several hours of planning my hunt, I was finally ready to strike. I smiled. We’re gonna have one hell of a feast tonight.

I took one final breath, and as I held the air deep within my lungs, I gradually began to pull the cold trigger towards me. I pulled it closer, and closer, until…

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggggggggggggggg!!!

“Damn it!” The rifle dropped to my side as I whipped out my cell phone as fast as I could, fumbling with it as I silenced the ringer. I swore to myself as I glanced at the name on the display–one of my clients (an “emergency”, no doubt)–but I swore even louder when I looked back up towards the plains. The bison was gone.

#

“No meat again tonight, huh?” Jessica, my sixteen year-old daughter, smirked at her mother and I as she slipped into an empty seat at the dinner table later that night. “What a surprise, what a surprise…” She pulled a bowl of freshly picked berries towards her and began to pluck them out, one by one, inspecting each one closely before dropping it onto her plate.

“Cool it, Jess,” my wife Maddy scolded as she set several other large dishes at the center of the table. “I’ve gathered plenty of fresh fruits and veggies for us to enjoy tonight, plus–I know, honey, I’m about to tell them (she smiled down at our young son, Alby)–your brother brought home a whole bagful of nuts from the valley near Barry’s place.” She patted Alby’s head. He looked up and gave his sister a toothy grin, then adjusted his thick-rimmed glasses before continuing to sort the nuts on the tray in front of him. I sat at the head of the table, resigned.

“I was close this time,” I lamented, to no one in particular, “very close.” Maddy glanced over at me and smiled, the glint in her beautiful emerald eyes not betraying the disappointment that she must have been feeling. “If it hadn’t been for that damn…”

“Rosalind’s dad killed two bison just yesterday–the big and muscular kind, not those skinny ones,” Jessica interrupted as she rolled her eyes. “She said they’re gonna have a huge neighbourhood feast this Sunday. Mom, can we go?”

My wife looked up at me and studied my sullen face, “If it’s okay with you, Nate, I’d love to go. I could definitely use some fresh meat. It’s been awhile.”

#

“Tough day at work today, huh?” A man with a red and white ball cap smiled as he took a seat beside me on a bench overlooking the sparkling city harbour, setting his fishing gear and a bag of fresh fish on the ground in front of us. He had a firm handshake, his grip vice-like.

“You can say that again,” I replied. “But it only gets tougher from here, don’t it? I’m screwed for dinner, that’s for sure.” I looked back out at the water, chuckling as I watched a few businessmen (from the financial district, by the looks of their finely-pressed suits) untie their boats and prep their fishing gear. “Is it an obsession,” I asked out loud, “when we deliberately make things more complicated than they need to be?”

The man in the red and white cap looked down at his bag of fish, and then back up to me, “It’s the way we live, brother, the way we live.” He licked his lips. “The moist skin of a plump, freshly picked tomato, the cool silky taste of fresh cow’s milk, not to mention the smoky aroma of a freshly killed bison. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I shuddered at the thought. “I only wish there were a better way, an easier way. Out there, somewhere.”

The stranger looked me right in the eyes, catching me a bit off-guard. “You sound like a man in need of some help.” He took a deep breath. “I know of a place, a secret place,” he whispered to me in an even tone, his lips barely moving, “a place with a long-lost Golden Treasure, that just might be what you need.”

“A treasure?” I repeated, before he held up his hand, quieting me.

“One that can provide more food–more meat–than you could ever imagine. Not too many people around here know of it, but,” he broke out into a wide grin, “today just happens to be your lucky day.”

#

My heart beat a bit faster as I drove past the first checkpoint on the stranger’s map and gripped the leather steering wheel of my SUV a bit tighter. I had been driving for four hours straight, leaving at first light, before finally passing the landmark. It was a small indication to myself that I wasn’t being sent on a wild goose chase. I was far north of the city by now, I confirmed as I checked the coordinates on my car’s built-in GPS system. But as I glanced at the crudely-drawn map on the piece of paper on the seat beside me, a cold chill ran down my spine. My ultimate destination lay far off the beaten path, in a place even my GPS system failed to identify. The reception of my cell phone was gradually fading. Sooner or later, I would be all on my own.

#

Several hours later, just as my eyelids began to grow heavy from watching the monotonous road and the barren fields, I suddenly sat up straight. Something out in the field to my right had caught my eye. Something had moved. Bison? I felt past the map on the passenger seat for the cold, metal barrel of my hunting rifle, reassuring myself that I would be ready just in case I happened upon some prey. But it was no bison–not even close.

As I continued to push forward, I saw more movement in the fields, on both sides of the road this time. What I saw shocked me. There were people, hundreds of them, slowly moving about the fields. On each of their shoulders, they carried woven baskets. Their eyes darted back and forth between the dozens of bushes that were scattered throughout the fields. I stared at them in wonderment, furrowing my brow.

At first I thought that they were moving through the fields systematically, covering each segment of it equally. But I was wrong. They were moving back and forth from bush to bush erratically, like rats sniffing through garbage. As one of them discovered something of value–a bush teeming with ripe strawberries, perhaps–those nearby would make an immediate bee-line towards them, surrounding them. And that’s when they fought. Like ants jostling amongst one another, they pushed those beside them away as they each fought to collect as many berries as they could.

In a field up ahead, one of them–a gangly old woman–had managed to fill her basket with berries and turned to dart away from the bush where she had found them, away from the others. Her sudden movement was a mistake: those who were racing towards the same bush quickly changed direction and pounced on her, pulling her to the ground. But she held on to her basket, guarding it with her life. Six of them now surrounded her, pulling at the basket, pulling at her arms from both sides. Just as I drove past them, I gasped–the desperate group tore her arms clean off, leaving her feeble, maimed body to die on the ground as they fought amongst themselves for the berries that remained. I shuddered as my blood ran cold. What had I just seen? Was this journey just a big mistake?

Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggggggggggggggg!!!

The blaring ring of my cell phone shot through the grim silence of my thoughts. One bar left, my reception was hanging on by a thread. “Yes, sir, I’ll get on it as soon as I’m back at the office. No, sir, that won’t happen again, you have my word. I know, sir.” Before my boss could respond, however, a deafening gunshot rang through the air. The people in the fields immediately froze in place like statues. I swallowed, waiting.

“Hello? Nathan??! Nathan, are you there????!” my boss shouted.

Another gunshot. The people in the fields suddenly sprung into action, scattering every which way, making a run for the safety of the surrounding forest. I gripped the steering wheel even harder with my left hand as my right pressed the cell phone against my ear–but the reception had gone dead. I pushed forward, picking up speed. I was close, I could feel it. My GPS signal stuttered, but I stole a quick glance at the map beside me. A Golden Treasure that would provide everything we could ever dream of. I had to keep going. Just beyond the forest ahead…

Then I heard a third gunshot, even louder this time, and my SUV immediately began to lose control, swerving left and right against my will. Another ear-piercing gunshot later and my SUV was in a ditch, the rear wheels propped up in the air, still spinning. But all I see now is darkness. I was out cold.

#

I woke up in a dark forest. I was lying against the trunk of a tree. The ground below me was damp, and a wave of billowing fog swept through the trees. I lifted myself up and checked my watch: it was 5:30 in the morning. Shaking my head to clear my daze, I tried to orient myself. Taking a step forward, I almost tripped over something long and metal–my hunting rifle, I realized. I picked it up and checked the gauge: one shot left. The map to the treasure had been stuffed into my back pocket. Thoroughly confused, I squinted at the map and did the only thing I could think of: I kept moving forward.

An hour later my spirit was rising. I had hiked several kilometers, and according to the map, this Golden Treasure, whatever it was, was just beyond the next clearing. I was almost there, just a bit further. And that was when the tree trunk in front of me exploded.

“How does it feel, brother, to realize that the hunter has become the hunted?” The familiar voice–a bit darker than I remembered–echoed throughout the woods. I froze. Standing still where I was, surrounded by fog, I felt helpless.

“What do you want?!” I shouted, my blood pumping.

“Like I said, brother, it’s the way we live, the way we live.” The stranger–the man in the red and white ball cap–cackled eerily, but I still couldn’t see him. “You want it easy, brother, I want a challenge. Wouldn’t have it any other way. Now run!”

The ground behind me exploded and I sprung forward, running as fast as I could. The man was insane. I ran blindly through the woods, the incessant fog blurring my vision, surrounding me, swallowing me. The branch of a tree beside me exploded with another gunshot just as I passed it, my body flinching in response. I clutched the rifle in my right hand and the map in my left as I forced myself to run harder, my lungs aching.

Just when I felt like I had nothing left, the fog disappeared and I blew into a clearing, an open field at the edge of the forest. My eyes squinted in response to the glowing sunlight that was rising on the horizon. The sound of another gunshot snapped me out of my confusion as I heard more cackling coming from the forest behind me.

“I’ve got you now, brother!”

I dove to the ground and began crawling across the field on my hands and knees, stuffing the map back into my pocket, still clutching the rifle. The grass was high enough to conceal me–just barely–and I moved through it as fast as I could. Another gunshot filled the air and I froze in the middle of the field. I pressed my body against the cold, wet ground, trying not to make a sound. My hands were shaking uncontrollably. A few minutes later, there was still silence. I listened even more closely… nothing. Taking a deep breath, I peered over the tall grass.

There he was, stalking through the field far ahead of me, scanning the area around him as he went. I slowly rose up above the grass, my hands still shaking. A long bead of sweat slowly worked its way down my throbbing forehead as I struggled to focus on the man before me. Squinting through the lens of my hunting rifle’s sight, I shifted the crosshairs until the ruthless hunter filled my view. I slowed my breathing, swallowed hard, and concentrated all of my energy and attention on the target. One shot left. One final breath. I held the air deep within my lungs, pulled the cold trigger towards me, and fired.

Looking up from the sight, I released my breath. This time, I didn’t miss.

#

A Golden Treasure it sure was. I walked towards it with a slight limp, positively beaming. The golden arches towered over me, casting a long shadow in the late afternoon sun. Though it was well after lunchtime, the parking lot was still bursting with cars. A long lineup of vehicles was building on the far side of the building, inching forward every few moments. As I opened the door, I heard a once-familiar phrase–“Would you like fries with that?”–and I smiled. We’re gonna have one hell of a feast tonight.

END

 

AUTHOR BIO

John Krissilas is an advertising guru and tech startup founder from Toronto. By day, he spends his time looking for the “big idea” to use for his next great ad campaign or tech startup. By night, however, he’s brainstorming the “big idea” to use in his next great story. John is currently working on a novel and publishes updates about his writing at www.JohnKrissilas.com

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Commande-In-Chief by Greg Boxer

Oct 07 2012 Published by under The WiFiles

The West Wing bustled with frantic activity as President Kenneth Powers strode briskly through the halls, flanked on all sides by aides and advisors.  Powers was a towering man with a broad muscular build that set him apart from those around him.  His chief of staff, Frank Moss, kept pace at his side.

The President of the United States was not having the best of nights.  “When did we lose contact?”

“Twenty minutes ago, Mr. President,” responded Frank.

“And Ambassador Kinsey,” continued the president, “Any word from him yet?”

“I was just on the line with him when his call dropped,” said the chief of staff, “same time we lost everything else.”

This is going to be a tough week, thought the president as the group turned another corner on the way to the Oval Office.  Yesterday morning the civil unrest in Mexico over growing drug cartel violence erupted into mass protests in the capital, Mexico City.  By evening the situation turned violent.  At the time President Powers decided to put US military personnel on alert, but the events unfolding in Mexico were not considered an immediate threat by most government analysts.  All that changed in the early morning when the Mexican electric grid went dead and all broadcast signals coming from within the country ceased, including all contact with the Mexican government.

The president turned to his chief of staff, “Is everybody ready?”

“The Joint Chiefs are waiting now, Mr. President.”

Frank stepped ahead of the president and held open the door to the Oval Office.  The assembled group of military and political figures that filled the room ceased all conversation and stood as the president arrived.

“I’d sure love some good news right about now, ladies and gentlemen.  What’ve you got for me?” Powers intoned as he moved across the room.

A five-star general standing off to the side with a heavy metal briefcase stepped forward hesitantly.  “I’m afraid I have even more bad news, Mr. President.”  He hefted the case onto a table at the center of the room and flipped the lock to open.  The case contained a small computer that flickered to life.  An image of earth appeared with a series of dotted lines orbiting the planet in elliptical patterns.

“We’ve attempted to use our satellites to get a clear picture of what’s going on in Mexico City…”  The general clicked a button on a hand-held device and the dotted lines on the screen turned red.  “…only to discover that our entire satellite network has been encrypted with a type of code we haven’t seen before. In other words, sir, we’re blind.”

President Powers leaned back against his desk, brow furrowed.  “How is that even possible, general?  And don’t tell me some twelve-year-old computer genius in his garage is having some fun at our expense.”

Director Flynn of the CIA raised a hand, “Sir, if I may?  Our analysts have studied the encryption and its state-of-the-art.  There’s no way this is some lone hacker.  Our best guess is it’s either a rogue government or possibly a well-funded independent organization.”

“Any suspects?”

“Russia, China…maybe some of our allies in Western Europe,” added the Director.  “But it’s unlikely they could accomplish something this sophisticated without us knowing.”

“And when can we expect to have the satellite’s back?”

“We’ll need at least twenty-four hours, Mr. President.”

The president gave a long sigh.  “That’s not good enough, Director.  All across the country Americans are going to wake up this morning and learn what’s going on in Mexico, and when they do they’re going to demand more answers than you’re giving me right now.”

The five-star general met the president’s eyes.  “Sir, I recommend we put the military on full alert and begin preparations to insert forces into Mexico to secure the capital.  If we deploy troops and air support we might at least salvage the situation.  We are capable of –“

President Powers held up a hand to cut him off.  “Thank you general, but I want some non-military options first.”  The rebuffed general wished to continue arguing the point but instead moved back into his place among the gathered staff.

The room went quiet again before the vice president spoke up.  “Sir, I’m not sure we have many options that don’t somehow involve military action.  We’ve had no word from the Mexican government or their military, and diplomacy’s out until we regain contact with Ambassador Kinsey. We cannot stand by while a sovereign nation, one we share our southern border with, descends into chaos.  For all we know this is an elaborate coup attempt.  If we don’t act quickly the situation could deteriorate and spill over into our backyard.”

“I’m well aware of the stakes, Dave,” responded Powers, “but have you considered the consequences of sending the American military into Mexico, even to save it from falling?”

Powers met gazes with those in the room.  “And don’t forget the gaping holes in our intelligence reports.  There are too many unknowns.”

The president let his words sink in for a moment before adding, “Using the military option is no guarantee the situation will be resolved.  Doing so could potentially cost the lives of our men and women in uniform, not to mention civilians, and I’m not ready to make those sacrifices,” he said with finality.  “There has to be another way.”

Once again the vice president spoke up.  “There is one option we haven’t yet considered…” he said knowingly.  Everyone in the room looked to the president.  “A small squad of Titans could go a long way in–“

“Out of the question,” said the president, quickly cutting off the line of thought.  “The United States is a key signatory of the Titan Arms Treaty.  You all know as well as I that Titans are not to be used by any signing member for military purposes, and I’m not going to violate that agreement.”

The room fell silent for a long moment as everyone contemplated the president’s words.

“What about you, Mr. President?”

The question broke the silence and caused a stirring of emotion within the president.  Powers was, after all the first super human to be elected President of the United States.  Before that he served as one of the world’s most powerful and beloved Titans, and he knew too well the burden of responsibility that power carried.  He’d told himself before running for office he could, would, do this job without his more extraordinary abilities…but perhaps he had only been fooling himself.

“You’re retired, Mr. President,” continued the advisor, “which means you’re no longer a Titan and technically not bound by the terms of the treaty.”

Powers furrowed his brow again.  “I doubt the American people would react well to my gallivanting across international boarders to play ‘superman.’  I thought the idea was to play down my abilities, to assure everyone I wouldn’t do exactly what you’re now proposing.  And I’m not sure our international allies would feel the same about a technicality.”  He let the words hang in the air, knowing he could not rule out this alternative.

“Sir, if I may,” chimed in another advisor.  “When you ran for office we weren’t sure if the American electorate would accept a super human president, but your past heroics as Dr. Infinite gave you wide spread appeal across every major voting bloc.  The people have shown they are behind you, and they will understand the current situation warrants such unconventional action.”  The advisor took another step forward as he drove home his argument.

“We have been down-playing your powers from day one, and that worked to get you elected.  But let’s face it, sir.  We now face a very serious crisis.  We need to use every tool at our disposal.”

“Mr. President,” broke in the vice president, “Your approval ratings are through the roof.  It is feasible we could proceed and only take a moderate dip in the polls.”

President Powers looked to the man, his chief of staff, who had been standing quietly at his side since the meeting began.  “What do you think, Frank?”  Frank Moss was also a former Titan and a long time confidant of the president.  Their close friendship, coupled with Frank’s abilities and unique organizational and interpersonal skills made him ideal for the job as the president’s most trusted adviser.

“You already know what I think, Mr. President.”

Powers smiled inwardly.  Frank would, of course back any plan to help innocent civilians.  He wasn’t the type to make decisions based on polling numbers or political strategies.  Frank was a true public servant, always on the side of the people, which was just another reason he liked having the man as his chief of staff.

Powers turned again to his assembled staff, trying his best to keep the tension he felt over the difficult decision he was about to make out of his posture.  “This isn’t about politics or polls.  It’s about doing what’s right, and not just for our own citizens.  If we allow Mexico to fall into chaos we risk destabilizing the entire western hemisphere, and we cannot let that happen.”

“Very well, Mr. President,” said the vice president.  “If we hurry, we can have the marching orders on the floor of the House and Senate within the hour, and have the first wave of troops ready to assist–“

“That won’t be necessary,” interrupted President Powers.  “I have no intention of sending our troops into action…at least not yet.  Put every branch of the military on high alert and begin making plans to secure all of Mexico’s borders, but under no circumstance are any soldiers to step foot on Mexican soil until I say otherwise.  Is that understood?”

The Joint Chiefs gave the president a puzzled look.  “Sir,” said one general, “If you’re not sending in the army, what do you have in mind?”

 

One mile above Mexico City, the translucent, green-hued form of Frank Moss appeared from thin air with a brilliant flash.  Frank surveyed the surrounding skies to make sure there was no immediate danger and then used his finger to trace a rectangular box in the air.  Frank tapped the air and the box started glowing.  President Powers then stepped through the door, allowing Frank’s energy grip to wrap around his body and hold him aloft.  There had been a great deal of debate among the Joint Chiefs about the president going in alone, but in the end Powers decided he would work best not having to worry about the safety of teammates.  A single man team was also more likely to go unnoticed.

It had been Frank who devised the plan for getting the president into Mexico, pointing out an aerial insertion would give Powers both an element of surprise and a chance to survey the situation before dropping in.  The two now floated side-by-side high above the Mexican capital at early dawn taking in the city below.

“I’d feel better if you weren’t going in alone, sir.”

The chief of staff radiated a bright green and stood flat footed as if standing on solid ground instead of high above it, yet another reminder for Powers that Frank was not really standing next to him.  Frank’s body, in fact, rested comfortably in his West Wing office in Washington D.C. almost two thousand miles away.  “There’s still time to gather some of the old crew together to join you.”

“You know we can’t do that,” responded Powers.  “We’re walking a fine line as it is, and I’d rather not turn this into a full blown international scandal if it can be avoided.”

The two fell silent as they surveyed the city below.  The capital appeared anything but peaceful, with plumes of black smoke billowing up from near the city’s center.

“That looks like a good place to start my investigation,” said Powers after a long moment.

Frank turned to Powers with a nervous glance, “I hope you know what you’re doing, sir.”

President Powers gave a self assured smile.  “It’ll be just like the good ole’ days, my friend, only this time I have the United States military as backup.”

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, sir.”

Powers lifted his wrist to reveal an attached communication device.  “I’ll report in every half-hour.”  The president’s expression turned grim.  “Hopefully, whatever’s causing this black out will not block my signal.”

Powers secured his utility belt, pulled out of storage for the occasion, and checked the straps on his parachute before taking a few deep breaths to clear his mind.  He had been trained in hand-to-hand combat by some of the greatest Titans of generations past, and possessed more than his share of ability and experience.  Despite being retired from the Titan business, Powers was confident he was up to facing any threat he would discover in Mexico.

The thought that he might be walking into a trap briefly crossed his mind, but he quickly brushed the thought away with a single, deliberate exhale before giving Frank the signal.

“Good luck, Mr. President.”

The green glow holding the president aloft fluctuated, then fizzled away and Powers dropped into freefall high above Mexico City.  The wind clawed at his combat uniform as he entered a dive and shot downward.

10…9…8, went the president’s internal timer as he counted down the seconds until he would release the parachute.  He pulled the cord and felt the jerk as wind caught the parachute and slowed his descent.

As the cityscape came quickly into view, Powers cut the cords of his parachute and dropped free, ducking and rolling as he landed on a rooftop.  Without hesitation he was up and running, leaping once, then twice, as he danced across the city’s rooftops.

Brings back memories, he thought with a near smile as he cleared the expanse between two buildings.  He was closing in on the source of the smoke plumes.  Within moments he landed on a ledge overlooking the Reform Promenade roundabout and the Angel of Independence in downtown Mexico City.  The area had featured heavily in the previous day’s newscasts before all contact had been mysteriously terminated.  He had witnessed thousands of protestors gathering and stopping traffic all throughout this section of the capital.

Going into this mission, Powers had not really known what to expect, but he was confident he would find some answers once in country.  Looking down at the scene now, however, filled his mind with even more questions than answers.

Along the south end of the boulevard Powers could make out where city police had formed a barricade to keep the throng of protestors at bay.  The day before Powers watched along with millions of others around the world as the barricade went up and hundreds of police in riot gear moved in to secure the area.  But he could see now the barricade had been broken, its wooden beams scattered in pieces across the pavement.  Just beyond that he made out the burned husks of police vehicles still flickering with dying flames, no doubt the source of the smoke he observed from the sky.

The scene was punctuated by an eerie silence that had befallen the city.  Where the previous day protestors stood shouting their throats rasp, now not a living soul could be seen.  In some places it appeared as if people had dropped what they were doing and simply disappeared, leaving behind protests signs and even still-running cars.  Except for the steady hum of idling engines that filled the plaza, Mexico City was now a ghost town.

This is not right.  The thought was more instinct than fully realized recognition, but something chewed at the back of Powers’ mind.  One of the world’s largest cities did not simply disappear overnight, even with the social unrest.   During his years as a Titan, Powers had come to trust his instincts, knowing they were always on the look-out for surprises.  And the situation he found in the city below had surprise smeared all over it.

And then something unusual caught the president’s eye, something on the streets below that should not have been there.  Resting among the discarded protest signs and abandoned vehicles Powers saw a large gift-wrapped box with a pink bow and a tag dangling off to one side.

Powers hesitated, eyeing the box with suspicion before retrieving the grappling line from his utility belt and securing it along the building’s ledge.  He tested the line and dropped from the roof, repelling down the side of the building.  He landed out in the open and remained crouched, waiting for any indication his motion had drawn out signs of life from the city.  When nobody made an appearance, Powers crossed the boulevard to where the box rested next to a humming automobile.  A gasp escaped the president’s lips as he read the tag.

To Dr. Infinite, with love.

The president did another quick scan of the plaza and then turned back to the present, cautiously pulling the bow tie off and opening the box.  The box was empty save for a single slip of paper resting at the bottom.  The president’s face paled as his eyes scanned the message.

Let’s play a game.

The words filled the president with ice-cold dread and sent jolts of danger sense coursing through his body. During his years as Dr. Infinite, one villain delighted in nothing more than tormenting him with vicious games, each deadlier than the last.

“…Simon Says.”

Ten years back, Simon hijacked China’s military command net, intent on having a good laugh.  He was able to put their military on high alert and trigger an armed conflict with India before the Chinese regained control.  Delhi had insisted on extradition, but when Dr. Infinite captured Simon state-side he was instead forced to turn him over to China for prosecution.  He was tried, convicted and supposedly still being held under tight guard.

That appears to have changed, thought Powers.

Simon was dangerous on an unprecedented level.  He possessed a hive-mind ability that allowed him to subjugate the mind of any individual after prolonged contact, and the more minds Simon controlled the stronger his grip became.

Behind the president an idling engine sputtered and then stalled, followed by another.  Powers spun on his heels, watching as one by one the cars stalled in a cascade of silence.  He stood for a moment as the quiet crashed in around him, and that is when he saw her.  Just beyond the shattered barricade, standing in the shade of a tree a young woman watched the president, her face obscured by shadow.

President Powers crumbled the note in his hand, tossed it into the box and made his way towards the woman.

“Hola,” he called out in his best Spanish. “Necesita ayuda?”

Powers stopped short when a flash of movement drew his eyes off to the left, and then the right.  One by one, like cautious predators stalking prey they appeared from open shop doors and darkened alleys.  They spilled from the shadows in the tens and then the hundreds before Powers lost hope of keeping track.  There were thousands of them moving in to surround the president.

He eyed the incoming horde, calculating his next move and angling his body into a defensive position.

He surveyed the faces in the crowd.  They looked to come from all walks of life, men and women in business suits, street vendors, factory workers, police in riot gear, and even soldiers, but their eyes were all a vacant milky white.  A thick aura of anger and hate saturated the crowd, washing over Powers and nearly knocking him to the ground with its potency.  He recovered his composure instantly and readied himself for what was to come.

The crowd’s advance slowed as a hoarse cackle drifted in on the stale breeze, “Do you like what I’ve done with the place?”

The voice was not too distant and all too familiar.  “Simon.”

Laughter echoed off the surrounding buildings, distorting the sound and making it difficult for Powers to pinpoint a source.  “Oh, thank you a thousand times for remembering.  You have no idea how much that means to me, really.  I thought you may have forgotten how much fun we used to have.”

President Powers allowed himself an amused chuckle he didn’t really feel, “It’s been awhile.  Don’t tell me the Chinese government let you out early for good behavior.”

The plaza echoed with Simon’s snarling rage.  “Is that supposed to be a joke?  You’ll have to forgive me; prison doesn’t exactly do wonders for ones sense of humor.”

“Is that was this is about,” asked Powers, “You do a little time and now you want to take a few shots at the guy who put you there?  You nearly caused a war and got caught,” stated Powers, “What did you expect to happen?”

The city fell still and silent as Powers waited for Simon’s retort.  When none came he pressed forward.  “Let the hostages go, Simon.  We can settle this between us.  I’m the one you want.”

Once again laughter filled the president’s ears.  “Nice try, Mr. President.”  Coming from Simon’s mouth the honorific was dripping with disdain.  “I know how you settle things, so today we play by my rules.”

Powers heard Simon’s loud finger snap and the horde restarted its advance, each mind-controlled individual’s face twisted into an eager sneer.

The president turned to the incoming horde and sighed heavily.  “I hope you understand when I say that I intend none of you ill-will,” he said, his voice both sincere and troubled.  In fact, he had hoped to avoid involving civilians in the fight, but that was now out of the question.  Powers would have to immobilize countless innocent civilians without doing any serious or permanent damage.

The masses attacked all at once, moving more quickly than one would expect from people who looked as though they should be collapsing from exhaustion.  They came at Powers from all sides, threatening to swallow him in an avalanche of bodies, but he was already on the move.  Dodging a fury of blows, Powers concentrated on the abilities of his Titan alter-ego, Dr. Infinite.  The president’s form rippled and expanded as a dozen identical replicas exploded out from his body to join the fight.

Giving himself completely over to the battle, Powers and his duplicates simultaneously launched attacks on multiple fronts.  He threw a string of disabling punches and kicks while at the same time continuing to form autonomous duplicates with each passing second.  A dozen became a hundred, and then a thousand all defending and attacking at once.  The president and his duplicates pushed back against the horde, forcing them down the boulevard.  He called upon his experience with dispersing riots, striking at nerve clusters, disarming attackers and leaving only unconscious and incapacitated bodies in his wake.

The president leapt high and landed atop a car, hoping to give himself a moment to recalculate his attack, while his copies battled on below.  It became clear to Powers he was being toyed with.  In the distance he could see a seemingly infinite number of Mexican civilians continuing to pour into the battle ground.  In the past Powers had been able to stretch his replication abilities into the thousands, but this battle raging around him would be the ultimate test of his powers.

He bore down and focused his mind with every ounce of concentration and continued spitting out duplicates. But even this would not be enough against sheer overwhelming force.  The fringes of the president’s battle line buckled and the horde broke through like a spear tearing through flesh.  Powers rejoined the fray and called for the replica army to reform the line, but it was no good.  The Mexicans crashed in like waves against a cliff, washing away the replicas.

The battle continued and Powers could feel as each duplicate was bested and vanished.  A few thousand became a few hundred and then only a handful until the president battled alone.  A barrage of vicious strikes battered the president, turning hardened muscles tender and causing him to give more ground.  The next strike broke his lip open, sending blood trickling down his chin.  The next caused him to stumble and lose his footing.

Powers tried to regain his stance, to carry on the fight, but the mindless horde was already upon him with thousands of hands blotting out the sun.

The president struggled even as the hands wrapped around him like a vice.  They held firmly around his legs, arms and neck, forcing Powers onto his knees.  The crowd parted and Simon stepped into view for the first time.  Keeping out of reach, Simon watched the president with what Powers could only assume was glee, for he could not see Simon’s face.  He wore a long, tattered trench coat and concealed himself behind a mask bearing the caricatured face of President Kenneth Powers.

“I must admit,” Simon confessed, “It feels good to see you like this; exposed, vulnerable…pathetic.”  The two locked eyes, even now in a test of wills.

President Powers gritted his teeth, “Should’ve…kept this…between us,” he managed.

“Oh, I am,” said Simon, the folds of skin not covered by the mask flexed in what must have been a wide, sinister sneer.  He gestured between the two of them, “Here we are, just the two of us.  But I hope you understand, I thought it only prudent to level the playing field.  Revenge should be fair, after all,” he said with clear sarcasm.

Simon stepped back and gave Powers a toying look, “I was prepared to do this thing mono-a-mono, but somebody had to go and get himself elected President of the United States.  I mean, how am I supposed to compete with that?”

“So, as you can see, I thought it only fair to get a nation of my own.”  Simon gestured around at the surrounding city and mind controlled Mexicans.  “It’s a fixer-upper, but hey, what do you think?”

“You can’t still be angry about China,” said Powers, looking for any opening to take advantage.

Simon’s attention snapped forward, the vacant eye sockets of the mask burning holes through Powers.  The president had clearly touched a nerve.

“They…put me…in a HOLE!!” raged Simon, his form visibly twitching with anger and Powers felt the hands gripping him squeeze until he saw red.  “You ever go ten years without human contact?”

Simon’s shoulders relaxed and soft laughter escaped his lips as he shook an accusatory finger at Powers.  “Very good, Mr. President.  You always could push my buttons.  But not today.  Today it’s a whole new ball game.”

One of the horde members removed the president’s communication bracelet and handed it to Simon.  He then stood to regard Powers one final time before retrieving a hand held voice box from the pocket of his trench coat.

“I knew you’d never send your mighty military machine into Mexico, just like I knew you’d end up coming in yourself.  That’s just your style, but I’m sure those eager beavers aren’t too far off.  They’d never leave their precious president without backup.”  Simon held the voice box to his mouth and chuckled.  “This is where the real game begins.”

The president’s heart sank and flooded him with despair.  The voice coming through the box was not Simon’s but a dead-on imitation of Kenneth Powers, President of the United States.

Simon snapped his fingers and the hands wrapped around Powers squeezed him until his eyes bulged.  “By this time next week everything you hold dear will be mine.”

Simon paused and seemed to contemplate the helpless form before him.  “I hope you’ve realized by now you’re going to die.”  Simon offered his old foe a salute and then turned to leave.  “Which is too bad, I’m sure going to miss all the fun we used to have.”

“Bury him.”

President Powers felt nothing but excruciating pain as the hands pulled at him from nearly every angle, stretching ligaments, tendons and muscle to the tearing point.  To his credit, the president did not cry out as white hot anguish flooded every cell of his being.  He did not scream because his focus had retreated inward, gathering all his remaining energy and finding strength in every second he remained alive.  His thoughts turn to the American people, to the families and friendships that made the nation strong.  To give up now would be to abandon them to Simon’s madness and he could not – he would not – let that happen.

Powers let out a deafening shout as he unleashed his accumulated energy and felt the fluctuations ripple across his body as two replicas reached out and grabbed hold of the mind controlled Mexicans pinning Powers down.  The pressure lifted as he continued pouring out more duplicates.  They shot out, kicking, spinning and throwing punches at those keeping the president pressed to the ground.  By now Powers knew he stood no chance of defeating the horde, but with Simon still in sight he would not need to.

Powers leapt forward, clearing half the distance to Simon in a single leap while his replicas fought to push the horde back in the opposite direction.  They would only need to buy him a few moments.

“Simon!” he shouted as he drew near.

Simon turned in time for the president’s boot to land square in his chest, knocking him back a few feet.  The president’s communication bracelet and the voice box dropped from Simon’s hand as he struggled to regain his footing.

There were no more fancy fighting moves, dazzling displays of speed or even the taunting of two adversaries fighting a never ending battle.  Powers pressed forward, throwing punch after desperate punch.

Simon lifted his arms to block the incoming blows, making no attempt to take the offensive.  Instead he reached out and touched the president’s mind, probing for an opening to assert his influence and halt Powers’ frantic assault.  Powers felt the pressure pushing against his mind’s resolve, but the call was not yet strong enough to stay his hand.

Sensing his failure, Simon pulled a knife and took a few frenzied swipes at the president.  Powers side stepped, but not quickly enough as the blade cut deep across his abdomen.  He caught Simon’s blade hand on its way around to deliver another slash and squeezed hard.  Simon cried out in pain as the blade dropped to the ground.  Powers saw an opening and stepped inside Simon’s guard to deliver a cracking upper cut.  Simon lifted off the ground and went crashing into the pavement.

Powers rushed in to finish the job but stopped short, his eyes widening in shock.  Simon lay at Powers’ feet, the mask no longer hiding his face.  The age ravaged face looking up at Powers was marked with deep furrows, sagging jowls and topped with a head of frail white hair.  Prison had not done well by Simon.

“Yield, and release the hostages.” Powers ordered.

The old man, for he was clearly much older than previously believed, offered Powers a smile.  “Take ‘em.”  A wheezy laugh left his lips.  “I’ve already got the next round in the bag.”  The laugh became a cackle and Powers turned to the communication bracelet lying on the ground not far away.

“We have confirmation, Mr. President.  Ground and air support are inbound.”

President Powers watched from a nearby rooftop as helicopters swarmed the aftermath.  Some settled down to unload recovery teams while others lifted into the air, carrying the most severely injured to waiting hospitals for medical treatment.

“…NATO Command has issued a statement condoning your actions and offered military support to ensure Mexico’s stability.”  The president’s chief of staff floated casually next to Powers as they surveyed the scene.  “Russia is already demanding a full investigation into your actions by the Security Council and the Chinese Embassy is petitioning for Simon’s immediate return.”

Powers raised a brow at this and replied, “Perhaps they can first explain why he wasn’t still locked away in one of their prisons.”

Frank continued, “Theater Command also reports full troop extraction within forty-eight hours.  And on a positive note, I’m happy to report we now have full access to our satellite network.  We’re not sure yet how he did it, but Simon somehow used them to disable power and communications all across Central America.  Director Flynn is looking into it as we speak.”

Powers’ mood was not lifted by this small bit of good news.  “And Mexico,” he asked, changing the subject.  “How much damage has Simon done?”

“Including the damage we inflicted during the aborted first wave…easily within the hundreds of millions, sir, if not more.  I’ve already put together a request to the World Bank for emergency funds.”

Frank’s words trailed off as Powers’ attention drifted to the make-shift field hospital where those with non life-threatening injuries were being treated.

“You had no other choice, Mr. President,” said Frank as he knowingly followed the president’s stare.  “If you hadn’t acted we would be at war right now, or maybe worse.  Those people should be counting their blessings that it was you and not the army we sent in.”

Powers shook his head, allowing the exhaustion he felt to show on his face as he watched another helicopter lift off with more critically injured.  “The media’s going to eat us alive over this.”

“Not if we’re completely honest with them, sir,” added Frank.  “They can’t hang us if we give them no rope.”

Powers gave Frank an approving nod.

“I’ve already called a press conference, sir.  The reporters will be ready in a few moments.”

The president took another look out over the field hospital.  “When I was elected I never thought I’d be doing anything like this.  I ran on crime reduction and educational reform.”  He turned back to Frank.  “Never imagined I’d be invading Mexico.”

Frank smiled, “Well, technically, sir…”

Powers also allowed a smile.  “I guess it’s time we get back.  The reporters are probably chomping at the bit.”

Frank again drew his finger through the air and a door appeared next to the president.  “The grindstone calls, Mr. President.”

President Powers chuckled and jovially patted his old friend on the back as they walked through the door.

“At least it’s not an election year.”

 

Greg Boxer has been writing fiction since grade school. He enjoys telling stories that stretch reality and stimulate the imagination. Two of his stories are published in A Thousand Faces, the Quarterly Journal of Super Human fiction.  Greg currently lives in Iowa City and works at a local veterinary clinic answering phones and helping care for cats.  He spends his nights pounding away at the keyboard and playing board games with his wife.      

 

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