‘When They United’

Part I

Throughout the storied history of planet Earth, countless species in the animal kingdom have battled malicious viruses and bacterial strains; all with varying degrees of success. While these microscopic invaders wreaked havoc on the host’s embattled immune system, it did so without support or assistance from any other microscopic species. In essence, we were often able to overcome these internal attacks because they came from only one pathogen at-a-time. 

We ‘knew’ they were primitive life forms; wholly incapable of complex mental function, or self-awareness. Any empirical evidence to the contrary would’ve suggested a significant level of sentience we weren’t willing to entertain. The human race was so fixated on its perceived ‘superiority’, that we refused to consider the possibility of species outside the animal kingdom being able to communicate with different life forms too. Our scientific community and religious leaders assured our fragile little egos that humanity is unique.

“Only we can communicate with each other in a meaningful way.”; They told us. We thought of these one-celled parasites attacking our bodies as unthinking, mindless ‘germs’ intellectually unaware of their own existence, or the greater world outside the body of their hosts. Those ‘facts’ made us feel important and special but they were recently proven very wrong. 

In a surprising level of collaboration that went initially undetected, the viral and bacterial kingdoms started attacking their human hosts in a deliberate, calculated fashion. This highly unusual partnership was unlike anything we’d experienced before. Their tandem attacks meant that previously developed natural immunity or lab vaccines only had a minimal impact.

Deaths spiraled globally from what was previously curable conditions. This hidden disease alliance led the leading virologists astray because they were still targeting specific strains. Besides offering malicious pathogens safety in numbers and greater gene variety, their united front afforded them unparalleled resistance to what had been our most effective treatment options.  

There was also the devastating effect of natural evolution as a bringer of beneficial adaption. In ‘comparing notes’ and sharing their inherent biological strengths via reproduction, it allowed the rise of super strains produced through organized cross-breeding. Even the ‘common cold’ mutated. It was able to weaponize itself tenfold against thousands of years of mammalian resistance. In less than two years, we were teetering on the brink of population collapse. No one could survive viral meningitis, necrotic sepsis, E. coli, and hemorrhagic fever at the same time. It was too much. The organs couldn’t handle that many active infections. We needed a ‘big win’ immediately. Only something in the magnitude of a revolutionary new medical discovery could give us the opportunity to save ourselves. The old ways of targeted antibiotics and synthesized vaccines weren’t going to work anymore. 

The ‘Microscopic United Front’ or ‘M.U.F.’ as it was sarcastically dubbed by news-media, was the greatest threat mankind had ever known. For the various microscopic species to put aside their internal disagreements and band together was a startling thing to contemplate. It was even more unbelievable when their agreed upon purpose turned out to be the unapologetic eradication of their human hosts.

Actual evidence of a cross-species confederation was only theoretical in the beginning but the autopsy results were indisputable. At no other time in history had so many different deadly pathogens been documented to infect their host bodies, in a such an obviously coordinated fashion. Infinitely stranger, was the unheard of partnership between multiple viruses and bacteria species. Historically, they were considered fierce ‘enemies’, just as much as lions and elephants are in the animal kingdom.

For unknown reasons, they put their biological differences aside and systematically started attacking the human race as an unorthodox ‘tag team’. Researchers could offer no logical explanation why they would purposely go after the very hosts who gave them a biological matrix to live in. As logical pragmatists, the exhausted medical community put those unknowns aside for the time being. Their job was merely to focus on how to save lives. 

Part II

Of course there was already a level of scholarly cooperation between various international research communities, but more was needed. It was a challenge for them to work together without the massive egos getting in the way. In the middle of the greatest crisis the Earth had even known, scientific research pioneers argued over the most mundane of recognition procedures. In essence, they wanted ‘bragging rights’ if their efforts led to ‘the cure’. It wasn’t enough to literally save the world from a fatal plague. They also wanted ticker tape parades and massive cash bonuses. 

“It goes against the evolutionary process of every living thing on Earth to attack its host! We ARE its only resource. They need us to live! Why would these different organisms band together to destroy the animal kingdom, at their own peril? It makes absolutely no sense! That’s literally biting the hand which feeds them.”

Dr. Nasir’s passionate questions to the international committee were unfortunately met with a startling level of indifference. ‘Why?’ didn’t really matter to the hyper-focused nerds observing his web speech, at research facilities scattered across the globe. They’d long ago decided that the reason ‘why’ didn’t matter to them. They had moved on to: ‘How do we stop this merciless epidemic before it wipes out all our species?’

Dejected from the lack of traction his line of reasoning received, he collected his notes and stepped away from the podium. His ‘moment’ was over. He had failed to move the ‘needle of interest’ among his academic peers, but all wasn’t lost. Luckily, one fellow researcher wasn’t as hyper-focused on ‘how’ either. He had been moved by those poignant thoughts of ‘why’. Pierre Lafleur was an up-and-coming biological research engineer with an analytical mind. He also sought to understand the root causes of the doomsday mystery before blindly attempting pointless treatments.

It might have been considered ‘good science’ to not get distracted by questions which couldn’t be solved definitively, but another helpful element of advanced research was to branch out, and not expend all efforts in the same direction. There were plenty of bright young minds desperately working on what to do about the virological crisis. Dr. Lafleur decided to contact Dr. Nasir immediately about pooling together their research efforts in a minority direction. Soon, a budding research partnership was born. 

“Pierre, I’ve studied evolution for most of my career. One thing that surfaces again and again, is that all organisms instinctively serve their own best interests. Some organisms may not consciously pontificate on the wisdom of certain behaviors, or ever ‘think’ as we do; but in their DNA they subconsciously realize the best path forward for survival. Every angle I examine about this baffling crisis leads me back to my prior experience observing biological behavior on this planet. There is an incredible range of life on Earth but in a basic sense every piece of the puzzle knows where it fits. It’s how organisms survive. Nothing about this strange immunological assault on the animal kingdom is logical. I think the solution we need to work on, is tied to that broken logic.”

Pierre agreed. He also recognized some interesting patterns in his field of study which seemed to correlate with Raj’s observations. He wasn’t sure how yet, but he was certain it was somehow connected. Once the two gentlemen overlayed their unique fields of study, there would hopefully be some clarity afforded to the plague. 

“Raj, I’ve indexed and cross-referenced ecological data about the dangerous buildup of carbon and greenhouse gases on this planet. When you pair that data with the initial dates of where the medical community first realized something dramatic was going on with the wave of fatal infections, it lines up perfectly. The sudden incidence of coordinated attacks started immediately after this drastic spike in emissions, late last year. I don’t know exactly what it means but the overlap is too linear for it to be a coincidence.”

“That’s very compelling Pierre! Maybe you’re onto something. Could it be that unchecked global pollution has physiologically changed these viral and bacterial species so they work together now against the animal kingdom? Could it have made them somehow ‘cognizant’? That’s a difficult concept to wrap your head around but anything is possible, I guess.”

“Yes it is, but I believe there’s a significant misunderstanding which has affected the collective research everyone on this project has made so far.”

“…and what is that?” Dr. Nasir could tell that he was being masterfully lead to an epiphany.

Part III

“I’ve noticed something which has led to false assumptions within our scientific community. I’ve seen no evidence that these coordinated pathogenic attacks are occurring in any species EXCEPT for humanity. You referenced the animal kingdom yourself several times in your speech but I don’t believe it’s happening in any other species but ours. Have you seen any creditable evidence yourself that they are also ganging up on other members of the animal kingdom?”

Dr. Nasir was like ‘a deer in the headlights’. Finding a unique, defining element in the puzzle couldn’t have been that cut and dried but his savvy colleague was absolutely right. He’d seen no direct or anecdotal evidence of it affecting other species. That would’ve make the most sense but it just wasn’t the case. The ego of mankind blinded them from focusing on anything but themselves. Thousands of learned researchers had taken the same wrong turn, and it lead them into an unproductive blind spot. It was embarrassing to recognize they’d all strayed from the scientific dictum of ‘assume nothing’.

“…and why would that be?”; Pierre challenged his partner. “If malicious microorganisms are attacking their hosts in a curiously unified fashion, why wouldn’t there be evidence of it occurring in dogs, cats, pigs, horses, cows, and other domestic animals? There‘s none I could find. Those animal species host just as many viruses and bacteria as humans so it’s not logical to think Homo sapiens would be the only species affected. The fact that these microorganisms are fixated on destroying only the human race is very telling, no? It suggests a deliberate targeting by evolving pathogens that must also be capable of some sentient level of thought.”

“Amazing!”; Raj uttered slowly. “This could redefine everything we know about the microscopic world. They must have some awareness of our global pollution issues! If they realize we’re causing irreversible damage to the biosphere, they may have decided that our species has to go. They still need biological hosts to survive, but only the humans are destroying the planet we all live on, right? Like cattle farmers, they’d probably use us like livestock and manage our numbers, based on how useful we are to them. Once the destructive drawbacks of any species outweighed its useful benefits, it becomes a liability. They must’ve decided to kill us off.”

Following Raj’s shocking conclusion, Pierre asked: “Do you think there’s any way for us to communicate directly with them? How can we get their attention to plead our case, so they might call off the mass extinction of humanity?”

“I’m not sure, my friend. This is a big moment. I’ve just now come to accept we really aren’t alone in the cognizant universe. Who would’ve thought an extremely different, but equally intelligent species could exist is such a microcosm of our bodies? We were so busy looking for our intellectual peers in outer space that we never even considered exploring on the cellular level.”

“Equal, or greater?”; He agreed. “Perhaps they didn’t want to be found. It’s easier to remain hidden and unmolested if no one is looking. One thing is for certain, trying to convince thousands of scientists that viruses and bacteria are both ‘aware’ of our circumstances, and are actively trying to rid the Earth of the human race, is not going to be an easy task. We might have more success at getting ‘their’ attention by stopping the proliferation of greenhouse gasses so ‘they’ will hopefully, leave us be. We’ll still serve a useful purpose to them as long as we don’t destroy the world.”

“That’s a big ‘if’ my friend; and how do you propose we accomplish any of it?” Dr. Nasir was bewildered by the daunting task of trying to achieve what environmentalists and politicians couldn’t do for 50 years.

“We erect ‘the big lie’. It’s not like the world governments aren’t desperate for a solution to this doomsday crisis. There are people with Chicken Pox and flesh eating bacteria walking around right now thinking they are ‘lucky’ since it’s not worse for them. We’ve gotta do something. This is our only chance. I agree that the idea of suggesting ‘sentient bacteria and viruses’ would be far too controversial, and widely mocked by the general public. We don’t have time to convince anyone of the full truth. Instead of a pointless distraction, we need to go BIG. We must convince the global authorities that this microscopic plague is due solely because of the continued escalation of greenhouse gasses. Technically that’s not a lie, if our hypothesis is right. We’d just be leaving out the incredibly difficult to accept part. Two birds, one stone.”

Part IV

Immediately the two men began constructing a believable framework for their benevolent deception. They researched environmental effects on the microscopic level. They prepared a series of bullet points supporting the bogus narrative and laid out credible explanations to refute any naysayers. It didn’t have to convince all scientists working on the solution. It only had to sway the real people in power. Authorities could clamp down on the most egregious producers of harmful carbon emissions and reverse the escalating damage. If everything went according to plan, the organized assault on humanity would hopefully cease, once the Earth’s carbon numbers dropped back to safe levels.

Convincing bureaucrats and laymen that the build up of hydrocarbons was causing biological mutations wasn’t too difficult. The big lie was easier to accept than the actual unproven truth would have been. What would be the real challenge would be keeping other research teams from poking holes in the paper-thin premise. Some might buy the idea at face value, but others with real-world experience and credibility would see right through the ruse. It was those individuals they had to find a way to pacify.

If they could keep the science community at bay long enough to convince the world governments to immediately reduce the ecological pollution, then there would hopefully be a reversal of the coordinated assault. That in turn, would help to reinforce the soundness of the idea for the majority of doubters and hesitant authorities. Of course it was all theoretical. They could be totally wrong about viruses and bacteria even having sentience; or the theory could be correct but the microscopic puppetmasters might still choose to ignore the 11th hour appeasement. If ‘they’ saw the creative effort as ‘too little, too late’ then it was all moot. We would still be doomed.

Instead of going through proper channels and stating their case to endless committees, they bypassed the bureaucracy and made a gutsy, direct declaration to the media. It was immediately perceived as ‘glory grabbing’ by their snarky peers but it got the attention of the right world leaders. Suddenly they were being asked to advise on key regulatory boards. Every politician was worried about their own little sand box. Hundreds of millions had already perished in the plague. For the leader who saved ‘his or her people’, the rewards and accolades would be endless.

“Dr. Nasir, what sort of evidence do you have to back up these wild, unsubstantiated claims your team has made?”

“My esteemed partner Dr. Pierre Lafleur has been studying the ecological impacts of worldwide carbon emissions for over a decade. After cross referencing the earliest known dates of ‘multiple pathogen outbreak’, he discovered that they occurred immediately after a recent spike in greenhouse gasses. Pierre, will you please share your research data with everyone in attendance? Thank you. Ah yes, there it is on the projector screen. If you’ll notice ladies and gentlemen, this epidemic began right after that huge surge in emissions on this date. It was the catalyst. We theorize that a ‘tipping point’ must have been reached on this day; and the species attacking us were mutated by the deadly levels of pollution in our biosphere.”

The charts and spreadsheets showed an unmistakable shift after two former member states of the ‘International green accord’ pulled out of the agreement. There was an audible gasp in the room. Seeing the results was dramatic. Pierre’s charts and research were authentic and scientifically sound. When cross referenced with the known timeline of the epidemic, it was a perfect match. That part of their plan was highly convincing; and from that point on, they had the attention of world leaders who had the actual power to shut down the cause of the assault on mankind.

Pierre was careful to avoid too many details on the fabricated part of their testimony. They’d already set the hook for the average person (who only needed to see a visual of ‘cause and effect’). There was nothing to gain by offering too many details. The plan could all go to hell if they floated too much pseudo-scientific babble into the thin narrative. Their academic peers would disprove it and unknowingly wreck the last remaining chance for salvation.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the highest incidents of the ‘M.U.F.’ plague have occurred in places with the highest carbon emissions. Here are the crossover charts. Look at them! That’s no coincidence. The ONLY way to save humanity now is to immediately cease the direct cause of these spiking greenhouse gasses. Without them being reinforced, the Earth will heal quickly. We need to achieve a worldwide reduction of 20% overall numbers in less than a week, or further mutation will occur. It’ll make what’s happened so far seem like a bad cold, in comparison. Act immediately before it’s too late.”

Part V

To pardon the term, news of the team’s chilling ultimatum went ‘viral’. Immediately world leaders enacted martial law to prevent fossil fuel use from adding any more to the carbon emissions. Larger nations could no longer make excuses or point fingers at their rivals. Expecting every other county to reduce their footprint first wouldn’t work. It had to be a unified, global effort. According to Dr. Nasir and Lafleur’s official press release, any nation which didn’t immediately cut emissions in half would bring about the end for mankind. It was a bold, unsustainable gamble. They only had circumstantial evidence that the microorganisms attacking the human race were actually cognizant. Even if that reasonable conjecture was correct, they didn’t have any promise from ‘them’ to spare humanity under those ideal conditions.

Of course there was widespread skepticism and resistance. Even at the very brink of extinction, few wanted to give up their modern lifestyle. They tried bargaining and made counter offers of more limited reduction schemes. Anything to drag their feet. It was a typical stalling tactic that had been employed many times before to a state of inactivity. The team had to go thermonuclear on the stalwarts to get the wheels rolling. They shared dire projections that would’ve terrified even the most jaded denier. It took that fierce level of applied pressure to frighten most of the reluctant into action.

“Dr. Lafleur, we’ve examined your environmental data and it does indeed correspond with the rise of this malicious plague. The scientific community and the entire world owes you a huge debt of gratitude for studying those emission trends and making the very important connection we missed! With that being said; we’d appreciate if you’d share more of your research with us. Mainly, we’re interested in your hypothesis on how elevated global fluorocarbons could have caused viruses and bacteria to mutate to this degree. What sort of biological catalyst could enable primitive microorganisms to communicate with each other and ‘gang up’ on us?”

The young doctorate student was polite but there was lingering doubt in her words. She surely echoed the same sort of skeptical sentiments with the rest of her colleagues. Raj and Pierre found it much easier to bluff their way out those questions when they were delivered by laymen and bureaucratic government officials. It wasn’t nearly as easy with experienced researchers and scientists. They needed significantly more than just the dots connected. Now it was they who were asking ‘why’. All Raj and Pierre could do was to stall for more time. Any immediate answer to those loaded questions wouldn’t pass the ‘sniff test’; and admitting the truth too early would derail the whole operation.

They just needed a few more days of maintaining the crumbling facade until the greenhouse gases dropped. If the attacking species were truly aware of their diligent efforts, they would hopefully decide to cease the deadly war against us. Then Raj and Pierre could finally come clean about their startling realization. Predictably, the media picked up on the shaky part of their explanation and fixated on it. The two men were bombarded with requests for direct interviews or to give statements detailing why they believed lowering the global carbon emissions would mysteriously cause the assault on humanity to reverse itself.

Reports showed an astounding drop in the worldwide pollution levels in just three days. The Earth wanted to heal itself but could only do so much with the continual barrage of new carbon emissions being added. It was incredibly encouraging to see what humanity could do in the face of an extinction crisis, but the needle still wasn’t moving fast enough to achieve the numbers Dr. Nasir and Lafleur insisted were necessary.

Predictably, Superpowers still tried to backpedal on their agreements. Academic skeptics grew louder too. The scientific community knew they were being stonewalled, and the media was about to turn on them. With so much momentum made in such a short time, Raj and Pierre decided it was necessary to reveal ‘the rest of the story’, before everything fell apart.

“Ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for your patience. Without your interest and personal efforts, we wouldn’t be this close to reversing the damage to our planet. That’s a testament to the willpower of the human race. Many of you have grown skeptical of our motives, or you worry we are operating under too many unproven assumptions. You’ve sensed that we weren’t completely forthcoming with some mission details. Your concerns may have merit but I’m here now to clear everything up. For reasons you’ll soon understand, we were hoping to delay this press conference a couple more days until the levels drop more. However with so many questions being raised and doubts surfacing, we realized it was necessary to explain our hidden objective.”

Dozens of skeptical researchers in the crowd shook their heads angrily. It was a vindicated confirmation of their fears. They fully expected Raj and Pierre to ‘spill the beans’ about whatever agenda they were hiding but they weren’t prepared for the truth. It’s not like they weren’t very excited about the opportunity to undo climate damage, but it was a pointless victory if humanity still became extinct from the horrible plague of plagues. It felt like their hidden agenda was only a reckless ruse to scare world authorities into accepting carbon compliance, all despite not having a plan for the more immediate crisis.

‘Maverick operations might’ve been necessary at times to achieve an essential objective but as soon as the two hotshots at the podium revealed they didn’t have any way to stop the microscopic war against us, it would destroy any remaining credibility science had as a benefit to the human race.’

Such pessimistic, discouraged thoughts drove the growing list of academic critics in attendance to demand they finally come clean. The moment of truth was finally about to happen but it wasn’t at all what they were expecting. A revelation of that magnitude requires acclimation time to soften the many set layers of scientific certainty.

Part VI

“We openly shared Pierre’s verified climate change data and helped pinpoint its genuine connection to the war of humanity. It’s doubtful anyone here disagrees with that part of the research. Am I right? What we decided to withhold from the public is that, while every other creature in the animal kingdom hosts numerous viral and bacterial species, there are no studies or links to suggest these other animals have suffered the so-called ‘Microscopic United Front’. We find that to be an incredibly unlikely scenario, unless it’s by ‘intelligent design’. Something that most people present would be highly resistant to even consider.”

A discordant uproar erupted in the conference hall. The din grew louder until meaningful conversation was no longer possible. The audience had grown visibly angry about the ‘idiotic’ implications of the speaker’s words. Someone yelled from the middle of the floor: “Do you realize the unmitigated shitstorm this little stunt of yours will cause once the bureaucrats realize you’ve tricked them into lowering the carbon emissions? They will never fund our research again. It’s hard enough to get the respect we deserve without you two bumpkins floating wacky conspiracy theories and weakening our creditability.”

Dr. Lafleur took the microphone. It was rare for him to take the lead as spokesperson but he was tired of having to suppress his angry retorts to the dismissive rabble who were mocking them. They clearly didn’t respect the unorthodox idea being presented but they would eventually have to listen. Pierre would demand it. They needed the support, or at least the respectful silence of every single person in the audience, in order for the plan to be successful.

“People! You saw my carbon data. It’s bulletproof and you all know it. Thousands of species just started simultaneously attacking us, one day at ‘random’. That’s crazy enough but this began on the exact same day that the Earth’s global greenhouse quotient ballooned by more than 11 freakin’ percent. Any of you who’ve studied statistical ratios must realize how unlikely any of that would be to just happen by ‘pure chance’. Millions of rare occurrences eventually become less and less likely to be coincidence. When you add that this doomsday consortium of microscopic pathogens elected to only ‘punish’ the species responsible for damaging this world, it makes infinitely more sense. They may use all animals as their hosts but one of those species is disproportionately more destructive than the rest and about to ruin the planet for all the other species.”

Raj gently took the microphone back to add another point.

“There’s a deliberate process taking place here. Everyone needs to step outside your pride over our modest little human accomplishments and recognize that our understanding of life and ‘higher intelligence’ is two dimensional and naturally biased. It’s sculpted from the materials we know and value as human beings. Clearly there are subterranean levels of sentience and different communication methods outside of the five known senses, based on these new revelations.

We may not be able to prove any part of this scientifically yet, but we genuinely believe ‘they’ are killing us because we are in the last stages of destroying the Earth. It’s likely they are monitoring our behavior as a species. We’re hopeful they might cease their personal assault if we can quickly reverse some of the global damage because they need us. If the continue on undeterred, we are dead anyway, so it doesn’t matter. At least we’ll leave the Earth cleaner for the surviving species.

We simply invented the ‘mutation’ angle as a temporary cover, since the average person would have significant trouble accepting what we’ve just told you. Can we depend on your silent support until the ultimatum I made at the ‘Paris Climate accord’ has been concluded?”

It would be a tough road keeping that many witnesses to the truth silent for three more days but it helped that a majority of them had been convinced to some degree. Even the skeptical ones recognized the inherent wisdom of remaining ‘mum’, in order to at least achieve the necessary carbon reduction. They would toe ‘The Big Lie’ line for the greater good, and a final chance of hope. That benevolent act of academic solidarity became known as: ‘The Human United Front’.

—————-

12:00 AM, Monday, April 14th.

On the one week anniversary of Dr. Nasir’s successful push for carbon reduction; every television, cell phone, and computer in the world displayed the following ambiguous message:

“We are ready to communicate with you now. Click the link below to begin a cross-species dialog.”

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‘Don’t doubt Uncle Tony’

The throngs of unthinking zombies continued to fester and grow in the intelligence-free vacuum of our modern world. Encountering their mindless droning and spastic hand-wringing everywhere (on a daily basis) was virtually inescapable. The distasteful experience bordered on Orwellian nightmares. They were persistent and highly aggressive in trying to provoke fear in everyone so ignoring the horde was ineffective. These indignant meat puppets were severely triggered whenever they witnessed a carefree individual still going about their day, unafraid. They hated normal people who hadn’t yet been turned into rabid, frothing, monosyllabic dolts afraid to be outside.

Once the cult cornered a potential victim, nothing would deter them from their mission to assimilate the poor soul. It infuriated them to see ordinary folks not recoil in panic. The hate and venom they felt for anyone with a room temperature (or above) IQ led to repeated assaults on the general population. I myself tried strong-arming them for a while, or avoiding confrontation altogether, but they refused to simply leave the rest of us be. The legion of doom wouldn’t be satisfied until we were all cowering in our barricaded homes and waiting to die.

Like a brainwashed messianic hive, they banded together en-masse and attacked the general public for ‘reasons’ which they had no real hope of understanding themselves. It was simply ritualistic behavior which they clung to, out of instinct. These teeth-gnashing sycophants desperately wanted us to join them in following their herd. Their gaping maws would open up, and the same nonsensical drivel would seep out, as if mass stupidity could be coached and rehearsed. With all forms of nefarious evil, we knew there had to be something malicious guiding and shaping them. It was up to us to be diligent and resourceful until their unapologetic assault on humanity eventually collapsed. A negative tipping point would occur if they infected too many others with their idiotic, fear-mongering drivel.

In the primordial determination to force unquestioning compliance, they simply refused to leave the thinking population alone. They continued to quote redundant, pointless mantras and cherry-picked ‘facts’. The truth was, they hoped to lower our intelligence until it was sub-par, like their own. With no means left to accomplish their mission, some of them got physical but that aggression was met with suitable levels of pushback and logic. For too long however, the survivors of this zombie outbreak tried to defend lucidity against the mindless, one-on-one. That wasn’t an effective strategy. To destroy the heart of the hive, you must go target the malicious leader propping up the pawn army.

After a futile attempt using reason on my latest braindead antagonist, I decided to refute the individual refrains they frequently parroted. The reality was getting lost to them in their pervasive haze of fear. It was more effective to tackle each part of the propaganda campaign, line-by-line.

“WEARRRRRR MASSSSSSKKKKK” he droned again incessantly; and in perfect ‘science cult’ synchronicity.

“TWOOOO WEEKKKKKKSSSS toooo FLATTEN CURRRRVEEEE!!!!”

“Joinnnnn ussss!!! TAAAKKEEE VACCINNNNEEEE NOWWWWW!!!”

“COOOOVVVIDDDDD SCARRRRYYY!!! Whoooo Ohooooo”

“DELLLTTTAAA, I meannnnn OMICROOOONNNN varianttttttt!!!!”

“DONNNTTTT DOOOOUBBBTTT WITHHHH UNCLEEEEE TOOOONNYYY!!! Heeee isssss ourrrr GOOODDDDDD!!!!”

As if the terror infused sound bites were articulated verbatim by the same spreader of fear and despair, I inserted my succinct retort between each of them.

“Aren’t you vaccinated?”; I asked the self-important little drone after his pseudo-judgmental confrontation. “If you are, and if you truly believe it makes a difference, then YOU are covered.”

His eyes glazed over in a mindless, indignant fury. There was a moment of palatable regret for not minding his own business but like an unwelcome rat, he was cornered. He hadn’t expected anyone to question the validity of his ‘woke’ crusade to ‘educate the ignorant’, and was caught off completely guard. Eventually his logic-free reasoning reminded him of the only semi-lucid response he could offer.

“Yesssss I ammmmm BUTTTT some people can’t be…. so YOU could accidentally give it to THEMMMM.”

“Ah, I see.”; I replied, while shaking my head in feigned agreement. “So if I get vaccinated, will that definitely prevent those people from getting it?”

“UUUUMMMMMMM NOOOOOOOO. A vaccinated person can still SPREAD the DISEASSSSEEEEE.”

I could see the smoke of frustration and defeat smolder from his empty noggin. “Will it prevent me from catching it?”; I quizzed. “Can I stop wearing the mask AFTER I get the shot, AND does it cover future variants?”

“NOOOOOOOOOO.” A little drool escaped his muzzled maw. “You cannnnn stilllllll catchhhh theee VIRUSSSSSSS. Mussstttt WEARRRR MASSSKKKKK FORRRREVERRRR. Doooo NOTTTT questioonnnnn. Justtt OBBBEYYYYY.”

“But I won’t die from it, right? I get those TWO shots and I definitely won’t die from Covid, correct?”

By this time the misery showed. My hapless confronter didn’t have his messiah ‘Uncle Tony’ of the CDC present to help him parrot excuses as to why everyone needed to be mindlessly compliant for the rest of their lives. He had to think for himself, and that was impossible. He’d long ago surrendered to the unquestioning ‘hive mind’ of big brother. Sweat beaded on his agitated brow. He didn’t want to answer my questions any longer. He realized it made the entire crusade to persuade people to obey these pointless dictates beyond foolish. Instead the reluctant fool returned to the official CDC doublespeak, in a last ditch effort to maintain the failing facade.

“Musttttt wearrrrrr masskkkkk. Must gett monthlyyyyyy booster shottts. Newwww ‘normalllll’.”; He bellowed. “Donnntttttt question SCIENCEEEEE. Twoooo weekssss to flattennnn the currrveee. You arrreee beiiing selfissshh if youuuu don’t complyyyy!” He began to froth at the mouth from pseudo religious indignation. “Join ussss. Join US… JOINNNN USSSS!!!!”

“Go tell ‘Uncle Tony’ I’m not buying the BS he’s trying to sell.”; I spat. “The thinking world is done with his boogeyman act. Any virus with a 99.2% survivability rate shouldn’t be allowed to destroy human hope or divide people. It’s all a game to him and he’s drunk on the seductive power of being ‘important’ for its own sake. If you want to wear a mask or a hazmat suit, have fun. I hope it makes you feel ‘safe’. Now, be gone, you mindless, compliant little zombie. You have no power over me. Try thinking for yourself.”

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‘The drop’

The mercury plummeted as the day wore on but not many noticed until it reached a significant depth. After a dangerous threshold was breached, a growing panic spread among the highly concerned population. Meteorological records kept getting broken until it was so cold that some feared the troubling situation might never end. Wild animals outside slowly froze to death in the arctic-like conditions. Humans and their indoor pets were not much better off because their homes were not winterized for such inhospitable conditions. 

The startling event occurred so unexpectedly that emergency organizations didn’t even have time to rally their ranks or offer public assistance. There were typically measures in place to warn the government authorities when dangerous situations arose but this deadly crisis crept in under their radar. Just like that, every person was on their own in the quest for survival. Outside at the atomic level, the spinning proton and neutron molecules of ordinary objects stopped orbiting and crumbled like crushed paper mâché. 

Emergency broadcasts cautioned residents not to venture outside but most had already figured out the prudence of remaining indoors. For the ones too desperate or anxious to remain safely inside, they took their lives in their own hands. Despite the dire warning, they felt compelled to seek refuge elsewhere because they were unprepared for an extended siege of polar conditions. Many did not make it. The death toll mounted. 

With the exception of Mom-and-Pop owned grocery stores and doomsday preppers, the average family had a limited supply of food. They could remain sequestered in place for a while but eventually the pressing question of what to eat would arise. For the majority, that moment would occur very soon. The hopeful were betting on the extreme conditions ending before running out of supplies but the odds were against them. Ice ages could last thousands of years and everyone knew it. The chilling idea of an extended period of extreme cold was in the back of every person’s mind as the windows glazed over and tree limbs snapped off in the distance.

International reports came in that it was a global phenomenon and no place on the planet was immune to the devastating cold. Scientists determined that the global orbit had slipped out of alignment and was pushing us farther from the sun. If correct, there would be no reprieve from the merciless temperature changes. Living conditions as they had been, were a thing of the past and long term survival was unsustainable.

Large portions of the planet were uninhabitable and the residents of those ‘dead zones’ were declared lost. Rescue or recovery of the bodies was impossible. Survival became a personal, individual proposition again for the overwhelming majority left scraping for food and trying not to freeze to death. It was then when a rogue conglomeration of worldwide business leaders formed an unofficial action committee to do what the remaining official government entities could not. They hatched a bizarre plan to ‘reset’ the planetary orbit through a series of disturbing apocalyptic maneuvers.

They weren’t concerned that it risked the lives of every remaining soul still clinging to life. They were made up of dozens of powerful billionaire executives who gambled with personal fortunes every day. Despite being unqualified in such unparalleled moral and technical matters, they ignored the official warnings and moved forward with their ‘Hail Mary’ proposition. It was almost like another massive stock trade or hostile takeover for them. They saw the impotence of the remaining international aid and military organizations as a green light to step in, and take matters in their own hands.

Their unverified, hastily-researched plan was to set off a chain-reaction of nuclear reactors remotely in the dead zones along fault lines. From that massive gamble, it was hoped to generate tectonic shifts, global earthquakes, and to eventually ’nudge’ the wobbling planet back into the previous orbit. Of course they had no verification it would cause the slight misalignment to right itself. For all they knew it might push the planet even further off course and make matters even worse. In light of the global infrastructure collapse, these captains of industry decided that doing something, was better than doing nothing at all. 

For the handful of remaining government organizations still operating in limited capacity, the leaked news of the maverick operation to save the world was incredibly troubling. While telecommunication was still possible, a physical assault on the headquarters to stop them was not. Transportation wasn’t possible in any means by vehicles which operated above ground. First the authorities ‘threatened’, and then they pled for the planned task to be handled by a developing network of international scientists. With no ETA on when the official efforts might be operational, they were unable to persuade the rogue team to relent. 

It seemed that the time for officially-sanctioned action by the authorities had passed as far as the billionaires were concerned. Humanity was terrified at how close death was to claiming all remaining life. These powerful people were bound and determined to either save everyone, or kill all of us in trying. In a last ditch effort to be included in some capacity in the salvation efforts, the international authorities offered to look over the ambitious plans. Their hope was to either stall the renegade team; or at least point out dangerous flaws in their plans. 

To the surprise of nearly all the leading scientific experts who surveyed the operational directives, the theory and methodology to be employed was sound and had a modest chance of being successful. It seemed these stuffy businessmen hadn’t just rehashed a bad science fiction movie script. They’d consulted with their own experts. Many of which were accredited and credentialed experts from the private sector. With no official programs being anywhere near ready and time running out for the planet, the worldwide authorities begrudgingly embraced the billionaire’s gamble with our lives. 

Even if fully successful in undoing the recent deadly orbital change, the earth would never be the same. Ironically what earthquakes and tidal waves didn’t kill off humanity, would just make room for long term radiation sickness. Toxic Uranium clouds from dozens of critical reactor meltdowns would surround the globe and poison the ‘lucky’ survivors. It was a perfect example of ‘the cure’ almost seeming worse than ‘the disease’. Regardless, given the opportunity, the average person would take the potential drawbacks over the hellish freeze that gripped the planet in its icy fist. If the world’s largest gamble didn’t pay off, then most likely it would soon be over for humanity anyway. The ‘Hail Mary’ was the last hope for mankind.

Via computer control, each of the large reactors were remotely set to overheat in a specific, planned order along known fault lines. Automatic safety protection measures were shut off. One by one, the atomic power plants failed as desired. The coordinated sequence of intentional disasters led to a moderate series of earthquakes and significant thermonuclear spikes. The ensuing radioactive meltdowns spewed up into the heavens and helped to melt several layers of global permafrost.

Ordinarily, worldwide disasters of that magnitude would’ve meant the end of everything but at that point there honestly wasn’t much left to lose. Instead, the global vibration shifted the planet ever-so-slightly back toward the original orbit. It wasn’t exactly as before but it raised the global temperature to survivable levels in a handful of places. To their credit, a coordinated grassroots effort by a handful of ambitious billionaires actually helped save the world. Who would’ve thought their meddling with nature and causing core breaches would gave humanity a fighting chance by irradiating the entire planet? Certainly not I, but it definitely happened.

Posted in Adventure, creepy, Different Perspectives, Fiction Stories, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thought provoking, Thriller, Twilight Zone Inspired, Utopia & Armageddon | Leave a comment

‘Berry in the woods’

On my autumn walk through the woods, my husky enthusiastically pulled me toward every tree and pile of leaves. She didn’t care about the walk itself. It was the process of sniff analyzing what animals had been to the park before her which made it all worthwhile. I was just the facilitator of her fact-finding mission. I enjoyed the brisk, energetic cadence of the walk itself and bristled a bit at her constant interruptions of pulling on the leash. I had to remind myself she wasn’t in it for the exercise like I was. She only cared about marking ‘her’ territory. Our walk was a mutual mission of compromise.

There were a few others walking the rustic path but my dog took no notice. She pulled me over to a strange bush a little off the trail. Ordinarily I was resistant to any efforts to drag me off but I could still see the path from the berry-covered object of her attention. She was determined to examine the colorful bush and I relented. The fact was, I was curious myself what species it was. I’d never saw anything like it before. The bright, shiny leaves and purplish berries were different from holly bushes and blackberry briars. I was no botanist but I’d been around enough plants to recognize it wasn’t indigenous to the area.

I can assure you I’m not the sort of individual to just randomly consume an unknown berry. Obviously I know better that to do that since it could be toxic or even deadly poison but I was immediately overcome by a powerful curiosity to taste it. This obsession bordered on a manic compulsion. I saw my disobedient hand reach out and pluck one of the seeds from the strange bush. Before I could stop myself, I put the brightly-colored berry past my protesting lips and swallowed it like a piece of highly-anticipated candy. The immediate result of this oral rebellion was a vivid, psychedelic experience which I couldn’t explain or understand.

My life could be defined as ‘before and after’ eating the strange berry. It was a visceral roller coaster ride. Suddenly I felt very small. Minuscule as a matter of fact. The trees around me stretched into the sky until I couldn’t see their tops any longer. My heart raced from the drastic change in perspective. I let go of her leash. Then all new colors appeared around me. Vibrant hues outside the visual spectrum which were so bright it hurt to look at them. I felt the urge to head back to the trail but stepping over the massive fallen leaves on the forest floor was exhausting. They were up to my waist. My dog was nowhere to be seen. I was on my own.

Having lost sight of the horizon from my diminished perspective, I hiked toward the area I thought was correct. For a distance I’d walked in 15 seconds as a normal-sized human being, it required a near infinity of time to traverse back to the trailhead. In such a highly hallucinatory state, I couldn’t be sure of anything I witnessed. Everything appeared huge and menacing. What I assumed were actually minuscule forest creatures scurrying on the ground beneath my feet looked like rhino-sized arthropods about to trample me in an alien jungle. They lunged and hissed at me aggressively but couldn’t decide if I was ‘foe’ or potential food. The truth was, I didn’t want to be either. I simply hoped I could avoid the subterranean predators and make it back to the car. Even then I wasn’t sure if I could drive under the influence of the mysterious berry but at least it would be a familiar sanctuary. Holding to that goal helped me stay focused. 

Once I arrived at the vehicle my troubles magnified, literally. It was as tall as a mountain and painted a glowing shade of color I wasn’t sure belonged in the visible spectrum. I couldn’t even be certain it was my car but it was definitely a fabricated object. It looked generally like it but some things were definitely different. I’d left the windows open but without climbing equipment I had no way to scale the door. Everything seemed hopeless until I remembered the key fob in my pocket. As luck would have it, happened to have a number of previously unknown buttons. Besides the ordinary features like ‘unlock door’, ‘open trunk’ and ‘autostart’, there was also a new button to put me in the driver’s seat. That was immensely helpful. 

As with everything else, the instrument cluster had changed drastically. It now resembled a space ship. There were thruster controls with roll, bank, and antigravity options. Even if I hadn’t been so ‘spaced out’ by the powerful hallucinogen, I was still way over my head by the foreign technology. The safest thing would’ve been to sit there and do nothing but an unexplained and illogical sense of calm convinced me everything would be alright, no matter what I did. I just started pressing buttons at random with an exaggerated sense of comprehension and importance. 

Just like in the old television space dramas, conveying a confidence in button pushing went a long way to compensate for not really knowing what was going on. Essentially I faked in until I made it. The vehicle lifted off the forest floor like a rocket and cleared the biosphere in just a few moments. Suddenly I was at the edge of space and rapidly leaving everything I had ever known. Strangely, I didn’t care that I was flying by the seat of my pants. The mysterious berry apparently gave its consumer unjustified confidence and filled them with a lack of concern for ordinary worries. 

In some ways, I was just passively along for the ride. At no point did I concern myself that I could actually be doing any of the bizarre things I appeared to be. It was all very dreamlike and resembled a Lewis Carroll story but then it occurred to me that I could be physically acting out against the strange things I believed I saw. If so that could mean real danger to my person. I could wander into the road and be hit by a car. I could fall into a stream and drown. I could step on a dangerous reptile. If I had known how vivid and consuming the ‘trip’ would be, I would’ve taken measures to secure my body until it was over. Now I was concerned about actual life threatening accidents that I could have while wandering the wild berry ride in the woods.

Many of the things which occurred afterward were too surreal to detail but my first and only interstellar space flight was filled with strange and unusual encounters I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise in a thousand lifetimes. I wasn’t even concerned with traveling back to Earth. Somehow I ‘knew’ it would all work out. When I awoke at the police station as a normal sized person again, I realized it was time to ‘pay the piper’. The only question was, what did I do during my extended escape from reality? Why was I there in a holding cell? I was afraid to even call a deputy over to explain the charges against me. 

I guess the attending officer at the jail saw me awake and came over. I tried to gauge the level of disgust or disapproval in his eyes but he was wearing sunglasses. I wasn’t sure if I was being charged with a merciless murder spree, robbing an ice cream truck, or inebriated jaywalking. The way my luck usually went, it could be all three. 

“Ah. I see you’re present. Good to have you with us.”: He quipped. “That must have been one hell of an acid trip. I’ve never saw anyone as ‘far out’ as you were last night. You were apparently ‘the captain’ of a spaceship, from what I could tell. Did you meet any Martians? What in the world did you consume? You don’t have a prior arrest record. It’s unusual to pick up an ordinary citizen on circumstances like that.”

“Did I… um… harm anyone?”: I asked nervously. I was terrified of what could’ve happened in my lapse from reality. 

“Nah. They picked you up clinging to a flagpole downtown. You didn’t resist being taken into custody though. That’s good. You just explained to the responding officer you were glad to be ‘back to Earth’. We located your car at the state park. That’s at least 8 miles from where we found you. They found a dog with your contact information on her tags too. She’s next door at the kennel.”

I turned five shades of red thinking of being a whacked-out nut they had to bring into the station. Judging from what he said, I was deeply embarrassing but apparently it was a harmless psychedelic trip which I’d luckily survived. I went to explain what happened but he must’ve put it all together from things he already knew. 

“By any chance, did you encounter a strange bush with purplish berries on the park trail?”

I nodded sheepishly. “I swear, I’ve never taken ANY sort of illegal drug in my entire life! The damn bush was actually glowing! I felt drawn to walk away from the trail and eat one of its pulsating berries as if my life depended upon it. It was absolutely magnetic. Even as I put it in my mouth though, I realized how bad of an idea it was but I couldn’t help myself, or spit it out. Honest.”

“We’ve had a few other strange cases like yours over the years but nothing as colorful as what you described last night. Wow. Of the ones I remember, there were actually a couple tragedies from consuming those toxic berries. The victims were either hit by cars or accidentally harmed themselves under the influence of whatever is in them. You were damn lucky to come out of that surreal experience in one piece. In the future if you go back there, keep to the posted trails, just like the signs say to do. The forest rangers would put up signs warning the public to avoid the berries wherever the bushes spring up in the woods, but that would just draw curious thrill-seekers to deliberately look for them. You’re free to go now. Don’t forget your dog. I’ll have an officer drop you off at your car. Remember what I just said. I don’t want to see you back here, OR lying under a bus.”

Posted in Adventure, Controversial topics, Different Perspectives, fantasy, Fiction Stories, Humor, Mystery, Science Fiction, Thought provoking, Thriller, Twilight Zone Inspired, Whimsical | Leave a comment

‘Light in the darkness’

Deep within my inner being
I burrowed down to the core.
Plagued by the eternal question;
“Is this it, OR is there more?”

I fumbled around in the pitch
for a radiant source of light.
To shine in times of trouble
and hold on stormy nights.

Often I’d come up empty.
It appeared I was alone.
The bleakness of solitude
chilled me to the bone.

Later during introspection
I gleaned a salient truth.
Wisdom comes with age,
as folly courts the youth.

There in my darkest hour
I spotted a warming glow.
You were always with me.
Never had I been alone.

Posted in Uncategorized, Different Perspectives, Poetry, Essays & Rants, Whimsical, Inspirational, Mantras, Thought provoking, fantasy | Leave a comment

‘I used to sleep in a dark room’

“It wasn’t always that way. Before there was some ambient light in my bedroom but I found it much easier to cross into the realm of nightmares with less distraction. Full darkness promoted a much faster transition. Many do everything in their power to avoid subconscious states of terror and dread, but not me. I decided to embrace them all, headfirst. It’s like a game which I lost every night. My goal was just to extend the playing time and adapt to the challenging new levels. Only by experiencing your expiration hundreds of times in unsettling dream scenarios could you possibly conquer those demons, once and for all. That’s what I told myself. I saw the challenging process of fighting for my life in the mental labyrinth as a needed ‘dress rehearsal’ before the main event.

The manner of my death changed every time but the risks felt just as real. I came to understand I was dreaming during the sequences but I still took the gruesome scenarios seriously. Maybe it was a sense of misguided pride but I felt I owed my subconscious dreamweaver full attention in those unique battles. It would’ve been disrespectful to purposely avoid the mortal conflicts thrown at me, or to allow my death to occur without making any effort. I fought tooth and nail to the moment of moribund every single night.

Upon awakening, the memories were still incredibly vivid so I listed them in a detailed record. I died hundreds of times from all manner of dangerous beasts and unimaginable foes. Some were unspeakably evil and lifelike. Others were darkly visceral and more abstract, but I couldn’t afford to dismiss anything which seemed silly or cartoonish upon waking. They all went into the dream account for analysis and further study. At the very least I was building valuable experience but my constant state of subconscious fear took its toll on my well being. I couldn’t think straight. I was understandably jumpy all the time. I keep asking myself if the current scenario I was mired in was the one that would actually get me, in real life.

Despite all the advanced training, I wasn’t prepared for when it came. The shadows were infinitely darker. The walls were impenetrable. The sense of immanent hopelessness I felt in my bones was absolute. The ‘game of death’ seemed to have skipped a hundred levels overnight. I didn’t want to play. I wanted to just curl up in a hidden corner and sleep but there was no place to hide. Believe me, I searched. I used every trick I’d learned from countless prior battles to secure some security but there was none to be had. It was as if the dreamweaver had access to my secret notebook. Every strategy I had amassed was useless. They had been compromised and I was forced to scramble to find new ways to survive.

Just as it was in my conscious life, I was utterly exhausted, mentally and physically. There was no place to escape. There was no ‘opt out’ of the terrifying game of death. It was playing me and I had no choice. I tried to summon a hero’s courage to fight back but I couldn’t think clearly. The lack of restful sleep for months had severely weakened my ability to reason or adapt to the horrifying new situation. The brain needs serotonin replenished daily to function and keep its sanity. I won’t lie to anyone. I wasn’t the ‘hero’ of my own dreams anymore. I wad a coward that wanted to give up. My will was gone.

The ungodly things stalking and torturing me were a thousand times more sinister than anything I’d encountered beforehand. It was like the game of death sadistically lulled me into a false sense of security with months of anemic ‘beta wars’. Maybe it grew tired of my earlier willingness to fight back and extend my stay in the boundless psychological battlefield of the mind, so it took the gloves off. Regardless of the truth I’d never know, I was overwhelmed and terrified beyond human words. I screamed until I was hoarse and stumbled away on bleeding hands and knees. I begged the blacked sky for unanswered mercy. My willpower was completely gone but there was no white flag to wave. If that wasn’t the purest metric for a victory won, I don’t know what is but the worst was yet to come.

The written word is incapable of denoting the level of merciless indignity I experienced before my actual death. Perhaps it’s enough to specify that in the realm of dreams, the only limits anyone has is the size of their imagination. Mine had been weaponized to dizzying heights by my foolish willingness to fight the endless monsters which attacked me every night. In that way I constructed my own apocalypse. Whether my heart gave out from psychological stress, or I succumbed to unsurvivable fright in the realm of these nightmares, I was dead in both worlds.

“I come to you now, in this dream as a sincere ambassador of truth and good will. Your series of escalating nightmares will begin soon, just as mine did. Its too late for me but I implore you to not fight back like I did. It’s human nature to want to survive but the blackened thing that puts these nightmares in our heads is malicious and spiteful. It doesn’t appreciate competition or willful resistance. It will weave increasingly darker scenarios to rally against you if you protest. Let it win this sadistic mind game so you have the opportunity to live another day. An ordinary nightmare you succumb to in a dream isn’t the actual end of your life. Shaking your fist impotently at the dreamweaver who sent it, will be. Remember my words when you wake up and live long.”

Posted in Adventure, creepy, Different Perspectives, fantasy, Fiction Stories, Gothic horror, Horror, Macabre, Mystery, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Thought provoking, Thriller, Twilight Zone Inspired | Leave a comment

‘A Viking end’

Somewhere along the way, humanity became ‘lost in civility’. The world was too large and complicated to simply do what we wanted any more without questioning the potential effects. There were rules to follow and expectations to be met. From parents, employers, and our rulers and government authorities, there’s always someone else to answer to. The human race sought to get along with others at the considerable expense of it’s self-interest and deeper focus. In service of that ‘greater good’, the ‘rough edges’ were slowly chipped away and ground smooth until we scarcely resembled the rugged individuals we had been in times past. Some of those behavioral changes were unquestionably for the betterment of mankind, but not all.

Gunnar Bjornsen fought almost every societal effort to ‘smooth’ him. He openly admired his ‘rough edges’ and valued the unique aspects of his independent personality. Just like his nordic ancestors a millennia ago, he wasn’t too worried about ‘rubbing others the wrong way’. Obviously that indifferent attitude caused some people to avoid him at all costs; and that was perfectly fine with him. For those who absolutely had to interface with him on a personal level, they learned to brace in advance for his direct, unwielding demeanor. He could be polite or cordial when he wanted to be. He just didn’t feel the need to pepper his greetings and interactions with sugary, insincere platitudes if it wasn’t how he felt at the moment. Much of that rigidity was due to his rural geographic circumstances and conservative rearing. What you saw, was exactly what you got from him. 

In his own way, Gunnar’s intense personality and abrasive nature was so well defined that it allowed those around him to adjust. Even a rough edge can be compensated for when it’s known and understood. Rivers flow relentlessly around upraised stones in the middle of the stream until the surface loses its edge, but Gunnar was hyper-aware of the communal efforts to absorb and assimilate him. He turned his back defiantly to the unyielding current and resisted its neutralizing influence. Mr. Bjornsen remained steadfast and committed in his principled efforts to be his most authentic self, no matter what. He fiercely railed against the eternal push for ‘saccharine civility’. 

In his tiny hometown, he was well known and generally accepted for who he was. Everyone knew everyone there, and they had to get along. He moved within its small circles; and those circles knew how to navigate around each unique moving part. (Even burly ‘survivalist’ types). Things became infinitely more complicated however if Gunnar ever needed to venture to a larger town or city. Although thankfully rare, occasions did occur when he had to travel to his country’s capital or other large population centers on personal matters. Obviously the more sophisticated individuals he encountered in those metropolitan cities had never met a man quite like him. It was jarring to meet a soul who bristled at ordinary expected societal pleasantries and modern conventions.

They were also taken aback by his countenance and unusual attire. He might’ve passed for a stage actor wearing a medieval warrior costume in public but his distinct personal ‘musk’ wasn’t necessary for any theatrical performance. It was the Nordic equivalent of ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’. The stares he received as we walked the urban streets didn’t bother him but the growing attention had a strange domino effect. He wasn’t breaking any municipal laws but creating a spectacle could still a considered a threat to public safety.

Police officers cautiously followed from a safe distance. Gawkers in shiny cars rubbernecked as the savage looking ‘Berserker’ crossed city intersections like he’d been transported a thousand years into his future. Pedestrians stopped to see if he would draw a sword or battle-axe. Passers by shouted that the harbor for his ‘long boat’ was only four blocks to the north. He just nodded sarcastically and gave them the thumbs up.

It was mostly meant in ‘good fun’ but his unusual presence made many of them incredibly nervous too; and that brought out mocking behavior. He was a living, breathing, historical anachronism; and non-conformity was less accepted in the city. He stood out like a sore thumb among the ‘urbane’ capital dwellers who were polished socially ‘smooth’. Gunnar was aware of the growing controversy surrounding him and he secretly delighted in it. He reveled in making these ‘smooth people’ uncomfortable. He thought of them as ‘soft’, emotionally insincere, and wholly unprepared for unexpected emergencies.

As a person without modern appliances or the internet, it was necessary for him to travel to the capital once a year to sign legal papers ;which he couldn’t achieve via electronic means). The sooner he completed that necessary task and got back to his remote little village and simpler life, the better he felt. Looking around as he walked in the crowded environment of thousands of unfocused apathetic people, he couldn’t help but theorize.

“I bet there isn’t a soul among them who can stop a charging bear or navigate the open sea.”; He mused. He pitied them for being so woefully unprepared for ordinary challenges. Obviously their urban standards of importance and his own were quite different. As he approached the municipal building where his legal papers had to be signed, he noticed a deeply troubling thing over at the harbor. A large sailboat moored to the pier was listing noticeably to one side and close to capsizing. As an experienced seaman, he knew the vessel was in deep trouble and rapidly taking on water. In full view of his growing crowd of curious onlookers, he tossed his paperwork down and sprinted to the edge of the dock. 

Below deck he encountered a sleeping family unaware their pleasure craft was rapidly sinking into the icy harbor. The power line attached to the boat from the dock was arcing and caught on fire. As Gunnar roused them from their slumber, the boat started its final descent down to the ocean floor. He briskly grabbed both children and took them above without hesitation. Water poured in, fire blazed above on the sails, and both drowsy infants cried in total bewilderment. A scary stranger was carrying them away from their parents and everything was in utter chaos.

He got them safely to the dock just as the sleeping quarters submerged below the surface. There was no sign of the parents. He dove back into the freezing water and tried to save them. In the murky haze, he spotted first the father, then the mother. He couldn’t save both of them at the same time so he grabbed the mother. With lungs burning from oxygen deprivation, he navigated the ship’s cramped berth and pulled her unconscious body to the surface. Thankfully a bystander jumped in to retrieve her and render CPR on shore.

Although exhausted and freezing, Gunnar dove back beneath the surface in hopes of pulling the man out of the boat too. His lungs ached. His chest contracted from the frigid water and his heart struggled to function in the harsh conditions. He made it to the entrance and felt around in the darkness. Unsecured debris from inside was floating around in the underwater crypt and his left arm was throbbing. As luck would have it, he made contact with a human leg. He pulled with all his might. Cramps seized his chest as the lack of oxygen punished his body.

He was tempted to release the the lifeless man and ascend back up to the surface for air and warmth. It would’ve still been possible to save himself but then his final rescue attempt would’ve been in vain. There was still a chance the man could be resuscitated. The flaming mast of the boat and it’s mooring were severed to protect the nearby people and the other boats. With his last bit of strength, Gunnar rescued the final occupant of the doomed vessel and collapsing against the capsized sailboat mast as it floated away. Like the mother, the father was also pulled ashore and attended to by emergency medical crew members summoned to the scene.

In the final throes of a fatal heart attack and hypothermia, Gunnar Bjornsen bravely perished while clinging to the mast. The flaming wreck served as his funeral pyre as it floated away, Viking style. He died with dignity and selfless honor, having rendered aid to those in need. His infamous ‘rough edges’ and direct, rural values compelled him to take immediate action that day, without forethought or in question about his own safety.

Posted in Adventure, Different Perspectives, Fiction Stories, Inspirational, Mystery, Thought provoking, Thriller, Twilight Zone Inspired, Uncategorized, Whimsical | Leave a comment

‘Glass houses’

The Internet blew up when news of a juicy celebrity scandal was revealed. A certain film star had been caught with a starlet costar (who was not his wife). Almost immediately, the writhing masses began to organize protests against him and boycott his latest movie, via calls to action on social media hashtags. Ironically, a nearly identical scenario had just occurred a few weeks earlier with a different celebrity and yet, there was hardly any mention of his indiscretion in the trending threads. Truth be known, the only significant difference were his political and ideological leanings. The ‘cancelled’ actor openly espoused a number of personal views which the activists didn’t like.

Unsurprisingly, they ‘protected their own’, while voraciously going after anyone they didn’t support with ‘social media pitchforks’. Everyone knew it was a thinly-veiled attempt to punish their latest target for his personal views but the ‘cancel culture mob’ remained resolute and unapologetic. They were undeterred in their quest to ‘improve’ the world and weren’t going to let their self-hypocrisy stand in the way of grass roots activism. What they didn’t expect however was for their latest target to fight back.

To everyone’s amazement, he used his considerable amount of wealth and resources to go after the most vehement of his anonymous critics in a very clever way. He released a long, open letter directed squarely at them to ‘clap back’, as the modern expression is applied. It read as follows:

“I see that my ‘fans’ have come out in droves to recommend that movie patrons worldwide avoid my latest film project (after a recent personal detail about me was made public, against my wishes). How ‘sweet’ that they are so worried about my mortal soul. If only they had been aware that my estranged wife and I have been separated for over a year and amicably filed for divorce FOUR MONTHS AGO.

Of course none of you brave ‘cancel’ people had any way of knowing that since it’s my PRIVATE business. Just like the private details of my new relationship with my lovely costar. The important thing here is, the media and gossip sites don’t care about privacy OR the truth. Actors and celebrities in general have always been ‘open season’ for anyone who wanted to take a shot at us. The media just wants to promote juicy stories and tasteless gossip to make the public froth at the mouth and clamor for more Hollywood dirt. Guess what? I have just excavated a TON of ‘dirt’ on my cancel culture ‘fans’. It seems only fair, right?

For instance, did you know that Alice Worthington, the original architect of the #boycottarronstevens hashtag has THREE DUI convictions but is still apparently driving? Look, here’s a few photos I pulled from her public profile taken last week. She’s still driving AND in photos from later that night, she can be seen holding several mixed drinks at a party! Wow. She apparently doesn’t care about the safety of others. Think that’s bad? Its my understanding her insurance agent cancels any policy written to customers with more than one DUI. Think she’s driving without the legally required coverage? I’ve reached out to them for clarification. I also found out that…”

The exceptionally long post went on to excoriate and reveal a number of embarrassing public details about all his chief accusers. Immediately there was a huge pushback and public outrage over his unwillingness to just be harpooned by anonymous critics hiding in the shadows as ordinary citizens. His counterattack was labeled ‘petty’ and beneath his ‘dignity’ by those individuals licking their stinging wounds. Protests were hastily organized to silence the brazen actor but a number of others decided they too were fed up with being public fodder and punching bags by self-important yahoos. They formed a celebrity alliance to take on the cowardly attacks.

With their considerable political power and clout, it was soon a two-way bloodbath between incensed celebrities and their accusers. The cancel culture doors swung both ways, it seemed. For too long it was assumed the rich and famous were too preoccupied with extravagant lifestyles and fame to worry about boycotts. Suddenly they jumped on the rolling bandwagon and doxxed the doxxers. Even those on the other side of the political spectrum joined in because they realized the danger of ‘living in glass houses’.

No person was so perfect or free from blame that it was safe for them to throw stones at others, without potential repercussions. Afterward, if there was still a push to boycott an individual or organization, there was an immediate #noglasshouses hashtag shared as a stark reminder.

Posted in Different Perspectives, Fiction Stories, Mystery, Parody, Technology ran amuck, Thought provoking, Twilight Zone Inspired, Uncategorized, Whimsical | Leave a comment

‘The laughing dead’

When the global story broke, it was almost as shocking that they were reportedly witnessed ‘laughing hysterically’; as it was that they were up and stumbling around (at all). Frankly no one was surprised the dead were in a murderous rage after the last half dozen hellish years we’d survived. ‘Armageddon’ was almost anticlimactic in that sense. The really sobering part was that in the horrific state of the world as it was, no one was able to laugh at anything. Well, EXCEPT the dead apparently. It was as if they were aware of some private ‘inside joke’ the rest of us were not privy to.

Scientists tried to assure the public that the repetitive jaw movements observed on the risen corpses were merely ‘involuntarily muscle flexes’. These highly discomforting ‘nerve spasms’ just APPEARED like the act of laughing. None of the eggheads tried to make us feel better about the living dead skulking around and murdering folks, however. That was something they couldn’t really explain or pacify us over. It was deemed to be more sociologically important that we didn’t feel as if they were mocking us, (when they savagely attacked people like feral dogs).

I for one, didn’t feel much better about the supposed coincidental nature of these homicidal flesh bags moving their lower jaws ‘involuntary’. It was the murderous stuff they did which kept me awake at night. If they also suddenly developed a whimsical hop and skip in their step, that wouldn’t change the deadly outcome of the attacks, right? Still, the ‘laughing’ mannerism, coupled with their animalistic snarls and labored breathing WAS definitely an interesting affectation. That much I’ll agree with.

Try as they might to ‘humanize’ the deceased, ‘the laughing dead’ stuck as the term used to describe these roving packs of cannibal ‘hyenas’. Over time we get desensitized to danger when it becomes old news. Humanity adapts to its challenges. Even the laughing dead. Parents taught their children to not mock them. They were considered to be a disadvantaged class of citizens, almost like homeless panhandlers. (Except they were ‘panhandling’ for human flesh). Sure they could be dangerous if they got too close, but overall they couldn’t help the weird situation they were in. ‘Pity, instead of hate’ was the slogan used to soften our feelings.

Every time I’ve been approached by one of them for ‘meat donations’, I gently push them away (with sincere respect, relax!) and then I’m on my way. Ignoring the disquieting ‘laugh’ is really tough, though. It’s creepy as hell when combined with lifeless, unblinking eyes, grunting, drooling, and the heavy breathing. Those just aren’t the regular mannerisms you’d associate with living emotions, you see. They always seemed like they wanted to share something personal too but I suspected it was merely a ruse to bite. You definitely can’t trust the laughing dead with whispering secrets in your ear.

Online ‘Nile.com’ vendors make a financial killing by selling: ‘Laughing dead deflection sticks’. The better ones collapsed when not in use like an umbrella; and were easy to wash off. Public health officials assured us their rotten flesh and slobber wasn’t contagious but I don’t think anyone believed that enough to risk coming into direct contact with it. It was simpler to rinse off your ‘deflection stick’ with tap water than to worry about accidental bio contamination.

The opposition party wanted them counted as ‘unemployed’ (since it hurt the ruling party’s political metrics and poll numbers), but no one sincerely believed they were employable. Leave it to politicians to find some way to blame flesh-eating undead ghouls on their opponents. Meanwhile commercial enterprise got in on the action and adopted the laughing dead as product mascots. It wasn’t long before those grinning murderers had their drooling mugs emblazoned on T-shirts and soft drink cans. “Drink Blitz Cola! Ol’ Blitzie has the biggest bite!”

Life in the Post-Armageddon-World was hard enough without constant reminders of the dead roaming the streets and looking to add to their numbers. Most of us just wanted to get through each depressing day without the chilling echo of their sinister ‘laugh’ haunting our ears (but a buck is a buck) and Blitz Cola donated big cash to both parties in power. The living were unfortunate victims stuck in the middle between giggling corpses and unapologetic commerce.

It appears I wasn’t the only one who had the sense that they were trying to tell us something important, (in-between irresistible homicidal urges). An ethical team of research scientists managed to ‘interview’ a number of them, and the results of these sessions were jaw dropping. Unfortunately the information was too controversial to be released but I know a guy, who knows a guy… you get the picture. My secret source felt the truth was way too important to be hidden, so he leaked it to me and several others. I need you to get the word out. Tell everyone you know.

The truth is, the undead really ARE laughing, but that’s not the shocking or surprising part to this. Their motor functions have been permanently damaged by festering rot and brain decay. Because of that biological breakdown in the nerve tissue, their laughing comes off as rudimentary and ‘wooden’. It’s the best they can manage with so much deterioration. According to the researchers, they are greatly embarrassed about this external handicap, so please don’t mock them when you see them. It’s akin to a lisp, and only makes them more agitated and angry.

Now, for the big secret. I need you to prepare yourself before reading the next part of this chilling revelation. It’s startling but absolutely true. The dead are laughing incessantly at humanity because eventually we will all join their ghoulish ranks. There is no escape from the merciless clutches of death’s cold embrace. Every one of us are just delaying the inevitable outcome of human life. One by one, will will all join them, and we’ll be laughing too.

Posted in Adventure, Controversial topics, creepy, Different Perspectives, fantasy, Fiction Stories, Horror, Humor, Macabre, Mystery, Science Fiction, Supernatural, Thought provoking, Thriller, Twilight Zone Inspired, Utopia & Armageddon, Whimsical | Leave a comment

‘Testimony of an ancient soul’ Part 3

I

And so, the next chapter of my story began. Queen Opel and I sailed back to Knossos and formed a mutually-satisfying and intimate partnership. Under those unique circumstances, it was an unorthodox relationship but we were happy and successful. She masterfully cemented her rule over her subjects by marrying; and thus ‘pacifying’ the furious wrath of ‘the restless Minotaur’ which had haunted the land. As with many of her creative ideas, it was a brilliant strategy. The grateful people of Crete knew she was fully in-charge and control because she soothed me, ‘the savage beast’. I lurked in the shadows the majority of the time and only made rare appearances in public to reinforce the image and dark mystique.

I eventually learned to accept my uncomfortable place in the world. As a living, breathing myth, I was trapped in a destiny which I couldn’t escape from. No man would’ve found my experience desirable but the legend itself grew over time. It took on a life of its own. In short order, an exaggerated collection of tales of my carnal prowess spread to all reaches of the ancient world. The significant consolation to my fate was that every night I slept with the beautiful Queen of Crete! I suppose that made me the unofficial ‘king’, by proxy. I learned to accept whatever gifts Olympus offered.

In the next fifteen years, Opel bore me three sons and two daughters. They were Minoan royalty by pedigree and divine birthright. The villagers knew they possessed my ‘sacred warrior’ blood. It was then when I realized Opel’s subjects saw our children as living demigods! As far as the villagers were concerned, our offspring were forged from the mortal flesh of a human Queen, and the unnatural loins of a beast. With a mixture of primal fear and respect, they embraced them as a source of narcissistic pride. Olympus Giants and demigods dwelled among mortal men on the island of Crete.

The official consensus was that she and I had manifested an Inhuman race of hybrid offspring through our intimate relations. It was a perfect scenario to maintain the religious facade; and for that reason they were worshipped as visible gods walking the earth. They were also recognized as the natural heirs to the royal crown, so I didn’t worry very much about their safety. The mythical cult of the Minotaur had finally developed into a useful entity by my wife’s careful ministrations.

Opel never stopped seeing me as the humble young man I‘d been in my youth, until her final breath. It was the longest relationship of love I’d ever experienced, and my heart still aches to this day. She passed away peacefully in her sleep. When the sad news broke across the land, the whole Cretan kingdom mourned her passing for a whole month.

Of course I was too distraught to recognize that her death might frighten the unstable cult. To the restless and fearful, it meant a dramatic increase in instability and insecurity in their lives. The Queen kept my carnal desires and animal anger at bay. Now my human mate and their ‘savior’ was gone.

Her funeral was lavish; and per her wishes, she was buried at the roots of her favorite tree in the palace garden. Our children wept during the ceremony and then retired to mourn in their quarters. I had no way of knowing that a dangerous, paranoid faction of usurpers had formed in the power vacuum. The unfolding plot was to trap me again within the endless labyrinth and kill off my entire family as a security measure. Before I realized it was a trap, I had fallen prey to the devious ambush.

Many years had passed since my previous exile from the maze. I rushed to find the escape passage again but countless hours passed in the fog of elapsed time. Night had fallen and I found myself again on the same desolate beach from my last escape. As history repeated itself, I ran toward the palace walls, only to discover that it was in abject ruins. Our beloved children and the fateful guards of the crown had been massacred in a cowardly bloodlust. I snorted in rage and vowed to seek merciless vengeance against every doomed traitor who struck them down.

One by one I tracked down all the conspirators and drained them of life. The look of absolute terror in their eyes just fueled my hatred even greater. I made them suffer and beg first before I finished them off. The blood of my children was on their hands. My conscience was clean. Once I’d extracted revenge, there was still the painful task of burying my martyred family and the royal guards. Honestly, I was so broken inside that I wanted to slay every single soul in Crete; innocent or not. I felt like the entire human race was against me.

In tragic times of my life like that, I even entertained the idea that the gods also existed; just to play with us. They’d give happiness, and then destroy it with a single swipe of their titanic hands. If Olympus truly had immortal deities, they took cruel pleasures in playing with all of us. I was furious at every single thing in the world. My own life experience had been filled with the torment and anguish of a dozen doomed souls.

I silently asked why I suffered the horrible fate of becoming a living myth, and losing my children to the malignant forces of fear-mongering fools. There was no immediate response from either above, or below. As always, the gods remained silent. I was on my own.

II

I buried the dead with a cold, emotional indifference. I couldn’t help but realize in my heart that everything I’d ever loved, died. It seemed easier to be detached and not suffer the pain. I no longer had any deep connection to Knossos or the nameless island of my birth. In a very real sense I was a homeland ‘orphan’. I had no remaining family left except for my estranged wife Pona, and our fully-grown children.

Even when they were young, they recoiled in horror at the sight of me. It was sure to be worse now since I stood significantly taller than any other man I’d ever encountered and bore an even more inhuman appearance. It was hopeless to look back at the past. I contemplated exploring the unknown world to the South or East but had no idea where to start. My grotesque appearance didn’t allow me to make ‘friends’, and I’d grown tired of casting fear to subjugate fools for political power and control.

Standing aboard Opel’s massive royal yacht, I pushed off the sandy shore of Crete for the last time. The reluctant Minotaur was abandoning his thankless post and venturing to distant shores. I decided to allow the whimsical Aegean current to push me wherever it desired. It couldn’t be any worse than how I had fared in Minos. I had fresh water, supplies, and a desire to put the past behind me. If Poseidon decided to punish me for my insolence by sinking the ship and claiming my weary soul, it would’ve been a blessing. I just wanted the pain and endless sadness to go away.

I allowed the sea to push me by it’s careless whim. That was frightening because I had no control over where I landed. I couldn’t speak the foreign tongue of the strange people I might encounter. Unsurprisingly, they were terrified by my massive size and grotesque deformities. Some ran. Others fainted or cried out in terror. A gathering of them along the shore adopted a defensive posture and tried to threaten me to leave their homeland.

The thing is, I was tired. I was weary. I wanted to feel solid land beneath my feet again. I desired to taste regular food. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but I also wasn’t going to allow aggressive attacks against me because of my size or startling appearance. I pushed past their futile attempts to dissuade me and walked inland, unimpeded.

I reminded myself that fear causes people to panic or overreact. I did my best to just lightly incapacitate my assailants. Their slings and arrows bounced off me, just as they had many times before. That just caused them to double down on their frenzied efforts. I growled at the top of my lungs until they turned and ran away like frightened children. My physical attributes were sure to cause loose tongues to wag, in this strange land of bronze-skinned folk. I didn’t care about anything else at the moment. I just needed fresh water, something other than seafood in my belly, and some rest on dry land. What the natives of this strange land thought of the ‘monster who came ashore’ was of little consequence to me.

Just as every other civilization at the time was based on fishing and trade of merchandise, so was this exotic place. An impressive modern city sprang into view at the edge of the dock. I wandered it in bemusement. Not caring about the mortified faces or the screams which followed, I was given a wide berth to explore. The people either pointed or ran off in grave concern. I ignored their panicked reactions and foreign curses. It was nothing new. I was too hungry and in no mood to perform an exaggerated theater production.

“Oh powerful Minotaur of Crete, why have you come to haunt our distant land? Have we offended the gods so much that the mighty arbitrator of their wrath is here in Egypt to extract vengeance for our sins?”

I turned to face my brazen accuser. It was a huge relief to hear my native tongue again. It was greater still that it was spoken so fluently; and with a surprising level of calm. While others ran from me in mortal terror, she stood and addressed me civilly. Her flowery words of respect were the first I’d understood since my ship landed on shore. My own speech was labored and admittedly crude from years of diminishing use, but I was able to answer my diminutive audience of one.

“No gods have sent me; nor do I punish anyone on their behalf. The fact is, I am a cursed soul who does not understand their wrath. I was once an ordinary man with love in his heart and dreams inside his mind. Fate hasn’t been kind to me. You can clearly see that if you gaze into my eyes. I’ve lost everyone I ever loved and was used as a tool, to subjugate the superstitious masses of Minos. I just wish to be left alone. Pity me, kind maiden.”

My demure challenger was quiet as the words sank in. I was far from my homeland but she knew the Minoan legends and spoke the fiery tongue of Crete and its warring people. It was a stroke of luck to encounter a gentle soul who wasn’t afraid of me, and could possibly translate for the others. A look of deep compassion and sympathy crept over her soft features. She was legitimately saddened by my bitter testimony.

“You must be hungry, mighty one. Would you like something to eat and drink?”

I was heartened by her hospitality. The simple gesture of generosity and kindness went a long way in restoring my faith in humanity. I nodded in agreement. She rose to retrieve some fresh water and food but her acts of compassion didn’t end there. She sought to offer me the most precious gift of all; human dignity and respect.

“What is your name, sir?”

I was stunned. It had been so long since anyone other than Opel and my children had offered me that level of compassion. She desired to know my human name. It made my eyes water in sadness.

“Saverin.”; I choked out. I hadn’t spoken that word since I’d adopted the dehumanizing mantle of ‘mythic beast of the maze’.

III

“I am Aleah, Daughter of Micha and Sarah. My parents witnessed your massacre of the priests of Minos many years ago. It was the same night they fled the island in terror. They’ve spoken of that event to me numerous times. I used to believe it was a folktale just to scare me into behaving or doing my chores. Now however I’ve witnessed a living myth with my very own eyes. Tell me great one, what really happened that fateful night?”

I was taken aback by her revelation. I never again expected to encounter anyone who knew of my chequered past. It was an opportunity to set the record straight; not that it mattered. I was a kingdomless soul, wandering an uncaring world in search of meaning to the madness. My new host led me to the public square and introduced me to her people. With Aleah as my translator, champion, and representative, there was hope in my heart that they might become a little bit more at ease. Perhaps full acceptance was too much to ask but I was tired of being so universally feared.

Her parents were reluctant to face me. They still remembered my little theater performance years earlier. Aleah wasn’t at all paralyzed by my mystique or past drama. She looked at me with a genuine admiration. For the first time in many years, I felt internally human again because of the respect she bestowed upon me. In the course of the next few weeks, we grew closer emotionally. I didn’t want to allow my feelings to develop into anything beyond friendship or gratitude for her compassion but loneliness knows no truth or bounds. My selfish ego craved her attention. My stubborn pride enjoyed her regal reverence of me, and my hungry eyes desired her feminine beauty.

I reminded myself I was old enough to be her grandfather (but as a soul who no longer aged), I questioned if that even mattered anymore. Age differences held little meaning to an immortal ‘Minotaur’ cursed by the gods. Aleah was of marriage age and sought my companionship. She was obviously just as smitten with me as I was with her, but I resisted the urge to court her, for a while. Her parents maintained their careful distance and secretly cautioned the same of her. In deference to their discomfort and realizing that I was more beast than man in their eyes, I avoided acting on my feelings until Aleah broke our uncomfortable tension. She questioned the awkward situation developing between us.

“Saverin, do you not desire me, as I do you? Would you not enjoy kissing me or holding me in your powerful arms? A woman knows when a man craves her loving touch.”

I had remained distant until then. I didn’t want to seduce her or misread her intentions. Many of the villagers didn’t even consider me human and I knew what a forbidden romance between her and I would cause. She would be ostracized for ‘lying with a beast’, by her distrusting people. Any children she bore me would be reviled and hated for being different. It was a rocky path to be the lover and mate of a so-called ‘demigod’. I was afraid she didn’t understand the steep price to be paid for crossing that forbidden barrier. After posing her pointed question to me, I started to express my reservations but she interrupted.

“For every concern that burdens you my gentle lord, I’ve had three. I have considered becoming your lover and what that would entail. I don’t care what others say or do. I only value what you think. If you desire me as your mate, then I am yours.”

I was stunned by the eloquence of Aleah’s words and her eagerness to share my bed and own my heart. It wasn’t considered demure for any woman to pursue a man but in all my past experiences, it was always a strong woman who took the lead in relationship affairs. First Ponash, then Queen Opel, and now Aleah, daughter of Micha and Sarah was laying the preliminary groundwork for a mutual partnership. She saw more in me at that point than I saw myself. If there was a common element shared by all of them, it was that they each knew what they wanted and they took it. Cleverly they let me to believe the decision was my own.

A wise woman saw the potential advantages of having an immortal warrior as her protector and the father of her children. She didn’t see me as a freak of mysterious sorcery. She saw me as a powerful entity to be revered and admired. The truth was, it was I who had been seduced but I was happy to be enchanted by her clever charms. She made me feel like a 16 year old young boy again. I was absolutely giddy from the intoxicating poison of Cupid’s love bow. Aleah adored me like a king and I protected her like a prize jewel I coveted above all things. I never thought I’d feel happiness again. Life was good.

IV

Over time I became accepted by most of the inhabitants of my newly adopted home. A few avoided me like an outbreak of leprosy but I was generally treated with a cautious level of respect. I was just thankful I didn’t have to frighten superstitious people into obedient compliance anymore. I wanted the same thing as any other man; to be happy. Aleah was by my side from my first waking moments, until the very last one of the evening. The townspeople may have gossiped about the two of us behind closed doors but they were careful to treat us with respect, when we were in their presence.

The familiar signs of expectant motherhood made themselves known to me. I’d been through the experience vicariously enough to recognize the stirrings of new life within my beautiful bedmate. It was a little amusing that I realized it before she did! Her mother Sarah was just as astute and spotted the pregnancy around the same time. Curiously, the only person unaware of the growing situation was Aleah. I chalked that blissful ignorance up to some level of conscious denial. I felt like the one carrying a baby needed to know but neither Sarah nor I knew how to broach the delicate subject. Aleah appeared very comfortable with the idea of not seeing the truth. As the direct approach is often the simplest, I elected to just come right out and say something.

“What shall we name our baby?”; I blurted out unceremoniously one morning. “I’ll let you choose.” Aleah looked into my eyes with genuine confusion. There was a tangible period of soul-searching before she responded. She ‘knew’, but she didn’t. Saying it out loud forced her to reconcile the truth. She was going to be a first-time mother. It was a powerful, life-changing moment and I didn’t want to ruin it by saying more until she had fully absorbed the weight of it.

“Do you really think I’m… with child?”; She squealed in genuine excitement. It was hard for her to even articulate the words. Denial can be a powerful emotion to overcome. I laughed at her elation. There’s perhaps no greater joy than to witness an expectant mother happy about the prospect. Her smile positively beamed like the warmth of the morning sun. I’ll never forget that moment. She adapted to pregnancy and the challenges of gestation as she did for every other other change in life; with determined enthusiasm. A few months later Aleah gave birth to our first child by the bank of the river; as was the Egyptian tradition of the time.

The malleable reeds along the Nile offered a durable weaving material for baskets, and the flowing water allowed for a quick and sanitary clean-up afterward. ‘Imhotep’ nursed in the warm afternoon sun, while his exhausted mother basked in euphoric afterglow. As an islander, I was largely unfamiliar with their many mainland deities, heroes, and villains of eras long past. Since parents often start their children on a purposeful path by their naming choices, I was curious why naming him that was so important to her. I assumed it was the namesake of an ancestor of hers or a regional deity. Surprisingly it did not fall within the traditional Egyptian pantheon, nor was Imhotep a family name.

Instead, she said something incredibly profound which caught me off guard. “With any luck from the gods, our beautiful son will live out a happy, healthy, and absolutely ordinary life. It’s my hope his future will be free of drama, pain, and all of the trappings of political power and fame that drain the life from everyone that they consume. All of the glory from your exciting past has brought you nothing but misery and death. You may desire for him to be a successful man because that’s a father’s measure of fulfillment. I simply want him to be happy. That’s a mother’s love and hope.”

In her short, mortal life, she’d already gained more insight into what was really important, than I had in ten. I smiled at her poignant wisdom and experience. Imhotep was blessed to have such a jewel of a mother. In many ways, the next twenty years were the happiest of my life. I was no one’s tool to scare others into submission or compliance. I was a simple farmer dealing with the regular challenges of life in a time of myth and legend. Our son grew up to be a powerful, handsome man determined to defy his mother’s simple wishes for him.

In his youth, Imhotep excelled at sport, academics, and the popular study of spirituality. He pursued the priesthood with a vengeance while excelling in architecture, science and the healing arts. Over the years Aleah pushed him to settle down and take a wife but it was fruitless. She worried he was in competition with too many ruthless priests and politicians to achieve the fame and success he craved. Sadly, those fears were eventually realized.

He was a young man possessed to achieve greatness at any cost. Like so many others, his ambition was to be his undoing. I tried reasoning with him many times but Imhotep was as stubborn and headstrong as his proud father. He designed the step pyramid for Djoser in Saqqara, but even constructing a pharoah’s tomb wasn’t enough achievement for him. In his unending quest for glory, he made too many powerful enemies among the jealous priesthood elite. They resented his many triumphs and eventually made him pay for his unapologetic disdain for the status quo.

To this day, his legendary infamy and ambitions outweighed my own. Our beloved son was hated for many reasons. He had an intellect and raw strength that frightened his powerful foes. He could outwit or charm his fiercest critic in the blink of an eye, and that made them gnash their teeth in fiery frustration. Aleah and I resided on the outskirts of the great city, to avoid him being ostracized for my Cretan origin and startling appearance. In the end however, the deliberate distancing didn’t save him. His enemies still knew of my legendary past and hated him for what has father was.

They saw his confidence as the insufferable arrogance born from the blood of a foreign demigod. They plotted to kill him under trumped-up charges of capital heresy. After a sham ‘trial’ presided over by bribed judges, Imhotep was dishonorably entombed within an unmarked sarcophagus and secretly hidden. Immediately afterward, his name and all honorary titles were stricken from public records to permanently erase his existence.

In my heart I knew they feared he was part immortal Minotaur like me. His mother was devastated. She took his death understandably hard. He was her world, and now even his proud name was forbidden to utter out loud. We couldn’t even mourn our loss. With the priesthood’s transparent agenda to erase his legacy and ostracize my existence, the writing was on the wall. Aleah and I had to flee our home before their sympathizers burned it down and left only ashes for the jackals. I vowed revenge for all those who had wronged my son and family.

V

Many of the temple priests were just cowardly bureaucrats hiding behind judicial scrolls. Unlike the Minoan priests I’d battled with to the death, they’d never held a sword and knew nothing of defending themselves in armed combat. When I swooped into their gilded temple quarters in the middle of the night, they scarcely had time to rise from their feather beds before I had my hand around their bony throats. The look of mortal fear in their eyes I’ll never forget. They knew death had arrived for them and there was nothing within those yellowed parchment tomes they could use to change it.

“Say his NAME!” I screamed in fury, while squeezing in a determined manner. It was guaranteed to get the desired results. My fist kept contracting until I heard the bones crack in their weaselly little throats. Some tried to make excuses or beg for mercy but I cut off their air again until they fully complied. The last word on each of their asphyxiating tongues that night was ‘Imhotep’. I seized their unused ceremonial swords and gave them ‘the kiss of steel’. The morning attendants would discover their masters’ headless bodies.

Obtaining justice from Imhotep’s crooked judges was a little more challenging. They were used to disgruntled people seeking revenge against them and paid their guards a hefty price in silver. I had no quarrel with the bodyguards for doing their jobs but they were in my way. I offered each of them a chance to ‘excuse themselves’ for a short time. They wisely decided to accept and live to see another day.

As was their corrupt way of life, the judges tried to offer me the same bribes of silver that had purchased my son’s dishonorable death in the first place. They were so greedy that they believed I’d just leave them be with a tempting financial incentive to not kill them. Perhaps my anger at them was disproportionate but I tortured the robed liars much longer than I did the priests. The judges didn’t hate my son the way the priesthood did. It wasn’t ideological or fear based actions like they used to justify his murder. The judges bore him no legitimate malice or ill will, at all. They were just greedy and sold my son’s life to the highest bidder. That make me angrier and I made them pay for having no moral code at all, other than the filling of their coffers.

After I’d finished sating my wrath, 23 men lie dead and I knew the Pharaoh himself would soon order my arrest and execution. Worse than being a wanted fugitive, I knew Aleah and my in-laws would also be targets, by proxy. We all had to leave Egypt and never return. Starting over again wasn’t going to be hard for me. I’d already reinvented myself several times but Egypt was all my wife had really ever known. Her parents were old and very set in their ways. They wanted to just stay behind but word quickly spread about my deeds in the temple. To kill a holy priest was an executable offense in the eyes of the pharaoh. To kill ALL of them AND the ‘honorable’ judges that presided over his court cases was unheard of.

Ironically, the royal orders to arrest me were incomplete because they were legally unable to state why the murders allegedly happened. To theorize in the warrant that it was in retaliation for Imhotep’s entombing, would’ve been admitting that my son existed. That too was punishable by death by sovereign decree. I wasn’t yet important enough in Egypt to be stripped from the official records. At least I hadn’t been before but killing all of the royal priests was about to change that.

The posted advertisements for my arrest throughout the city described me as ‘Anubis with Horns’. I had to laugh at the mischaracterization. Besides being one of their chief deities and most powerful gods, Anubis was a jackal-headed beast. Only in the shallowest sense could my bull-shaped head be mistaken for their highly-feared god of death but I suppose it was just as apt as calling my cursed, deformed body a ‘Minotaur’. It served their purposes to describe me in such supernatural terms. I’d brought death to every ‘holy’ priest in the city and denied them their own sacred burial rites in the process. Maybe I was closer in temperament to the supernatural actions of Anubis than I’d realized.

Getting my wife and family out of Egypt wasn’t going to be easy. Obviously I stood out in the crowded market streets and they weren’t able to fight. Luckily it never came to that. I couldn’t decide if the people recognized my as the most wanted fugitive in the country, or if they were staring at my grotesque features. Either way, I attracted unwanted attention and gawking onlookers. Once again, who I am put the rest of my family at great risk.

The few who definitely made the connection from the public calls for my arrest didn’t appear particularly interested in challenging me directly to gain the promised reward. I suspected they might still flag down an officer of the pharaoh later to alert them of our whereabouts so we had to keep moving. A few others may have recognized me but didn’t want to get involved. They secretly hated the priesthood or just didn’t feel like risking their lives. To feign ignorance and remain oblivious is the large city way.

I sent my father-in-law to arrange discreet passage for us to the docks along the Nile River delta. I’d saved enough gold to buy a modest sailboat and hopefully our freedom; if we could strike an honest bargain with the nervous merchants making deals that day. I had no idea what the current rate was to smuggle four fugitive adults out of the country, but they were more likely to risk their necks for an ordinary looking man like Micha, than for me. With the huge bounty on my head, there was always the risk of betrayal but they would regret any decision to double cross us. Of that you can be certain.

Micha, Sarah, and Aleah boarded the vessel just before the sun went down. I watched the docks for spies and informants. When the time was right, I scurried down to the pier as discreetly as a man of my massive size and appearance could. If it was a trap for me, I’d be ready for them. Naturally I could fight off a dozen of the pharaoh’s soldiers but if they took any member of my family hostage, I’d be forced to surrender. Luckily at that hour the dock was mostly deserted so I made my move.

VI

I was almost to our boat when a man on the deck of a neighboring vessel glanced up and saw me. I’m sure I was a sight to behold in the colorful Egyptian sunset. I saw the distinct look of recognition come into his eyes. I fully expected him to yell for others to assist in detaining me but he remained quiet. I was about to reach for my dagger to permanently silence him when he spoke.

“Praise be to you Saverin, fierce and loyal Father of Imhotep, builder of Pharaoh’s shrine! I was one of his lead foremen. He always treated his workmen with care and respect. I was deeply saddened by what the jealous priesthood did to him but by the god’s wrath, you made them pay for their misdeeds! Imhotep was a great man and always spoke with sincere admiration for you and his mother.”

I was thankful I hadn’t acted too hastily. His kind words made me beam with a father’s undying pride. My son may have been forbidden to speak of, but he wasn’t forgotten. Deep down I always feared he was ashamed of me; or at least for my monstrous appearance. By the way Imhotep’s foreman spoke, he had told his crewmen many good things about me and our unusual family.

I thanked him and boarded the boat. Our supplies were modest at best but we had no choice. The pharaoh’s soldiers would catch us if we didn’t immediately leave the country. Just as we were about to shove off from the dock, our kindly foreman ally gave us extra food provisions and supplies. It was greatly appreciated and could make the difference between all of us arriving safely at our next destination, or not. Now all I had to do was figure out where that would be.

The winds of fate had blown me East decades earlier when I’d abandoned my Cretan homeland. With so many bitter memories tied to that rugged island kingdom, I had no desire to ever return back there. This time I steered our ship Northeast in hopes of finding peace in the land of the Assyrians. Like many other people from those ancient empires, they believed in mythical creatures and inhuman beasts.

It occurred to me that among the highly superstitious Assyrians and Babylonians, my cursed deformity might actually serve me well. They had a strong respect for their gods, many of whom were common among the various Sumerian descended tribes of the region. We landed in what is modern day Syria and didn’t even bother tying up the dilapidated boat. My in-laws and seasick wife were desperate to be back on dry land again. It might’ve been a little different had we made the modest voyage in Opel’s royal yacht but I’d sold that luxury vessel when Imhotep was still a baby.

Once on land, we were faced with a reoccurring situation in my life. We were foreigners who didn’t speak the common tongue. Immersed in the new culture and depending on clarity for your livelihood, you adapt quickly to the barrier but we weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms. We’d used the last of our gold to escape Egypt, we were financially destitute, and I was a bull headed giant.

I’d grown accustomed to the stares and screams but Aleah, Micha, and Sarah had yet become desensitized to them. In Egypt, we were careful to move in small circles. Villagers there begrudgingly accepted me over time and so we avoided traveling to new places where my appearance would be a shock. Thankfully, those around me in my everyday travels came to overlook my cosmetic differences.

Unfortunately that self-imposed isolation was over and everyone we encountered now on our proposed trek to Nineveh saw me with new eyes. I was the visual manifestation of a devil, a demon, or a demigod as far as they were concerned. The range of reactions varied wildly in the eyes of superstitious people with so many supernatural deities.

Some onlookers heaped veneration and worship on me for resembling one of their bull-headed gods. They called me “Kusarikku” or “gud-alim”; which means ‘bison-man’, in their tongue. Others mocked and pelted us with stones until we ran to protect ourselves. Thankfully the attacks were infrequent and I took the brunt of the abuse. On a few occasions, angry mobs attacked me with spears and swords.

When they saw how their weapons bounced off my thick skin, they changed their focus to target my vulnerable family members. When an attacker charged at Aleah, I picked him up and broke him in half, as a stark warning to the others. After that, the word quickly spread about the fierce “gud-alim” traveling to the famed capital city.

As much as we didn’t desire any attention, there was a growing entourage following us for various reasons. Some were coincidentally making the same pilgrimage to Subartu (or Assyria as it was known later on) but others appeared to be tagging along for the spectacle of witnessing one of their gods. I’d been told an audience with the king would be advantageous but I was understandably skeptical. I wish I could say we refused the misguided offerings made by my hypnotized followers but that wouldn’t be true. They helped sustain us on the long journey across the harsh land of Caanan.

Aleah’s mother’s health began to decline steeply. She tried to keep up but it soon became clear she was in no condition to continue. I carried her on my shoulders for a while but even the jarring of my steps pained her. Sarah was dying. We hoped she could hold out until we found a new home to settle in, but it was not to be. Aleah and Micha mourned her sudden passing in the middle of the night while I dealt with the curious crowd hanging around. Our journey had to stop there. At least for the time being.

VII

Aleah was depressed and her father was emotionally defeated. Just like my previous In-laws, they had given up everything because of me. I felt like the woes of the world circled my head and anyone in close proximity was doomed to suffer for my curse. To live forever is the foolish dream of mankind but with that ‘gift’ comes the bitter sadness of knowing that you will leave behind everyone you love. I mourned the future passing of Aleah, although we surely had many good years left together. Eventually everyone dies and I’ve had to bear the lingering memories that remain, even to this day.

Sarah was prepared for her journey into the next life and laid to rest in the ornate funerary practice of the day. Aleah and Micha mourned her passing in the Egyptian tradition and made offerings to their gods for safe passage. Her body was anointed with sweet oils and wrapped in linen. Our unofficial traveling companions were fascinated by the burial rituals. Their gods and funeral rites were all different, but most of them remained outwardly respectful of their differences in belief.

A few even tried to offer their respects but they didn’t understand rigid Egyptian customs. There were so many different spoken tongues in our little makeshift traveling village. Among us there were Tyrians, Canaanites, Elamites, Hittites, Martus, Akkadians, and Sumerians all trying to find common words. It’s true that some gestures are basically universal, but others lent themselves to misunderstandings. Once we were ready to resume our long journey to the kingdom of Kish, I began to question several troubling things.

I’d been advised to visit the court of Enmebaragesi, their reigning King and request a position in his guard. There was still an incredibly rough passage across a long desert to get there, or an equally difficult journey over the mountains. I didn’t think Micha could handle either of those challenges at his advanced age, nor did I want my wife to suffer another parental loss. Word had spread that the ailing monarch transferred his daily responsibilities to his young and inexperienced son, Aga. Whisperings about his fledgling rulership within our caravan alluded to rising instability and potential war in Kish, Nineveh, and Assur. We passed many frightened souls going the other way, fleeing those cities in fear.

I had a great deal of respect for the wisdom of age. With Enmebaragesi handing over the power of his crown to the youngster, I didn’t desire to kneel before an adolescent boy or be used to frighten terrified subjects into submission. Other travelers in our trek were about to separate and take the road South, to the ancient kingdom of Sumer. Their governor Gilgamesh was only a vassal to the hegemonic ruler of Kish, but I’d heard promising things about him. Even if Gilgamesh had to kneel before Aga, I held infinitely more hope of him being a benevolent ruler over his people. With luck and good fortune we hoped to settle there and find peace.

When we reached the divide in the road, we traveled south toward the destination of Uruk. It was a longer distance but more of a hospitable journey for my elderly Father in law. Along the way, our traveling arc led us through a number of impressive cities that are now lost to dust and time. We passed by the growing city of Babylon, but it was only a ‘village’, compared to the great heights it rose to, later on. Every man we encountered along the way warned us against traveling to Kish, but I assured them we had no intention of getting mixed up in Kishian politics until ‘King’ Aga discovered how to rule his subjects benevolently. With each encounter it made me feel better about changing our path. The young boy was over-ambitious and too anxious to make an important name for himself; at the cost of blood and thousands of innocent lives. He wanted to escape his father’s long shadow of experience by demanding unqualified respect (through fear and intimidation). I wanted no part of that.

When we approached the Golden walls of Uruk, I thought it was a desert mirage! I couldn’t imagine a place built by man so magnificent. The walls seemed to reach the sky and it’s sheer dimensions were unfathomable. Every city I’d seen with my own eyes until that point was but a ‘mud hut’ in comparison. The canals and massive ziggurat towers were incredible to witness from a simple boy who had been born on a nameless Aegean fishing island. Uruk was a divine place of sophistication; and I was anxious to find happiness there with my tired family.

Unfortunately news of my arrival preceded me. Travelers on the road ran ahead of us and whispered lies about my intentions into the ear of Gilgamesh. He had a reputation as a fierce fighter and warrior. In other words, he didn’t let his soldiers fight while he cowered behind in the back, guarded by his protectors. He was known to lead the charge into battle and that fearlessness earned him high praise and respect from him subjects. As ‘Lugal’ or ‘big man’ He’d erected those massive brick walls to surround and protect the city from marauders and invaders. According to some of the unofficial ‘advisors’, I was a wild beast-man, or ‘Enkidu’, immune to sword, spear, or arrow.

Naturally that raised Gilgamesh’s hackles; especially when they told him of my massive size and horned appearance. Was I coming to invade his proud city and kill his subjects? Perhaps I planned to usurp him and seize his position as governor. He didn’t know what to believe and with only the word of his traveling spies, he’d already decided I was a dangerous enemy of state before I’d even walked under the Anu gate.

While I truly was immune to slings and soldier arrows, Aleah and Micha were not. I paid a trusted companion in our little entourage to accompany them into the city, separately than I. Lest they pay again for my misdeeds and undesirable reputation. I had no way of knowing I was walking into a trap but having lived several human lifetimes until that point, I’d gained enough insight to be cautious. That instinct proved to be a lifesaving diversion. Gilgamesh and his royal soldiers cornered and attacked me no sooner than I’d entered the Uruk city square.

VIII

“Enkidu! Throw down your weapons and submit to my yoke. You are either my subject, or my prisoner!”

Honestly, my metamorphosis into a massive-horned beast had been so unnatural that there were still times when I’d forgotten how formidable I am. I still saw life through the frightened eyes of an ordinary teen boy about to fight murderous Minoan priests in a labyrinth. Seeing Gilgamesh stand there for the first time was genuinely intimidating for a moment. He really was a BIG man. Normally ‘Lugal’ was used to describe ANY ruler; regardless of their true stature but he stood a head taller than any of his men and would’ve towered over young Saverin, the curious boy from Crete.

When I didn’t immediately comply, one of the guards rushed toward me with his spear aimed at my heart. I snapped his weapon in half and then tossed his unconscious body like a reed basket of straw. Others rushed at me and then met the same result. Finally Gilgamesh called them off to battle me by himself. I crushed his dagger and then wrestled him to the ground, as the rest of the soldiers looked on in amazement. They had never seen anyone beat their leader in hand combat. Modesty aside, I could’ve crushed him with ease but I was tired of death and fighting; and even more through with running from civilization.

I understood his actions. He was trying to protect his people from a perceived threat and didn’t rely on his soldiers to do it. That was the very mark of bravery and greatness in my mind. At least they was traits I could admire and respect. I didn’t posses the Sumerian vocabulary yet to reassure him I was not his enemy, but he quickly understood I was holding back my ability to kill him. I’m not certain how obvious it was to the soldiers observing but I knew he needed to ‘win’ to save face with them. They needed a powerful leader that demanded respect. If I made Gilgamesh beg for mercy, that would be lost.

At the end of our duel, he signified (discreetly) that he’d had enough and wanted to declare a truce. I immediately released him, helped him to his feet, and then bowed in official respect and reverence. That showed his men he had my respect, and that I submitted to his authority. There was a palatable look of humility and relief in his eyes when I arose. He knew who the real victor was in our hand-to-hand skirmish, and he also recognized my sincere willingness to humble myself before him anyway. It was the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship.

Suddenly I went from a fearsome enemy inside their city gates to a welcome guest at his beautiful palace. There was a substantial language barrier so he and I relied heavily on interpreters to bridge the linguistic gap. I spoke my original island tongue, the similar dialects of Crete and Minos, several Egyptian regional variants, and a few other languages I’d encountered on my travels along the way but Sumerian was highly unique. It was different from the Semitic Akkadian tongue spoken in Northern Mesopotamia and I did my best to pronounce the most basic of words and phrases. I wondered if the court interpreter was the individual who had advised him to attack me initially. Since I needed accurate and unbiased translations to facilitate beneficial dialog, I let my suspicions go for the time being.

Gilgamesh was a consummate host and passionate about helping his people. I got the gist of his words from their tone and inflection but there were still miscommunications and a number of misunderstandings. He continued calling me Enkidu; and in the spirit of making peace with him and not offending my powerful host, I adopted the strange moniker. Their sacred folk tales told of wild, bull-headed men who lived up north in the sparsely inhabited mountain region. I assumed he thought I was one of these mythic creatures and was curious about their legendary skills in battle. I had earned his respect for sparing him and allowing him to ‘win’. I wasn’t sure if he’d ever heard about the Cretan ‘Minotaur of the maze’; but as one who knew first hand how that story was a myth, I realized their folktales and gods were definitely just as real, to them.

I suppose every ancient culture had a bull-headed humanoid creature in their heroic folktales; and I was the living embodiment of theirs. From that day forward and for many years, I was known as ‘Enkidu’, Gilgamesh’s wild-man friend and traveling companion. I willingly accepted the facade with gratitude as it afforded me a chance to put my own past behind me and start anew. We had many jars of delicious beer and soon grew to be like brothers.

When King Aga sent his arrogant envoys to Uruk to demand that all able-bodied men give their labors to dig wells and canals for the city of Kish, Gilgamesh was incensed by the indiscriminate flex of power. He lamented that Aga’s royal decree amounted to slavery. No man or his family was to be paid for their effort; and while serving this mandatory duty, Uruk’s own municipal needs would be neglected. First Gilgamesh spoke to the temple elders about refusing the demand but they would not protest against it. They wouldn’t take up arms against the royal order because they were wealthy older men who wouldn’t actually sacrifice anything themselves by complying.

In frustration, Gilgamesh posed the same call for rebellion against Kish’s decree to the working class. Unlike the apathetic city elders, the younger men had no other way to support their families or tend to their crops. They agreed to take up arms in rebellion against the Akkadian boy ‘King’; and unanimously elected Gilgamesh as their ruler against him.

When Aga heard that Gilgamesh had countermanded his orders and had been declared King of Uruk, he summoned an army and marched upon the city to bring his rebellious vassal back under heel. Knowing my imperviousness to the weapons of war, Gilgamesh made me his lead general and sent me on ahead to obstruct the army before he reached the city. Aleah and her father were reasonably safe and well provided for, but I was still worried about the sacking of Uruk if our strategy was unsuccessful. There was no guarantee Gilgamesh’s untrained farmers and fishermen could repel Kish’s considerable armed forces.

IV

At first Aga ‘leaned against’ the walls of the city with his ‘seige weapon toys’ and caused great lamentation by the frightened people. Uruk’s fortifications were reinforced and withstood the assault. Then Gilgamesh ‘leaned against’ Aga’s soldiers with an impressive combination of power and finesse until they folded and crumbled. When he assured them that any soldier who laid down his arms and surrendered would be spared, they immediately turned their backs on the foolish young man leading them to their peril.

We seized Aga and put his throat against the sword. In front of the present gods and men, the young fool suddenly developed an onset of enthusiastic, (if not insincere) humility. I felt sure Gilgamesh would send his head back to Kish on a platter but our new King did something humble and highly unexpected. He spared the boy’s life on the condition that Aga agree to drop of demand for Urukian workers and return home. The young man wisely agreed to the condition and returned back home with his tail between his legs.

Later when we were alone, I asked why he spared the boy. There was such a high risk of him returning in a few months with reinforcements. Gilgamesh explained his loyalty and respect was high for Enmebaragesi, the elder King. That alone convinced him to take pity on the headstrong youngster monarch. The pain of losing a son wasn’t deserved by his noble father, who had always been very generous to Gilgamesh. His act of mercy would hopefully go a long way toward allowing the city of Uruk to remain an independent city state.

Another pressing issue was the lack of timber in Uruk. Gilgamesh needed wood for various municipal projects and fortifications but the nearest source was quite far away; in what is currently known as Lebanon. The famed forest of cedars was said to be guarded by a terrible beast that had supernatural powers and size which dwarfed my own. Humbaba was legendary in Sumer and Akkad as a force to be reckoned with. Even our fearless King who’d fought invading armies was hesitant to challenge him.

That level of concern and lingering legend made me very curious. Was he just another cursed soul like me? I had to witness the beast who drew such fearful whispers among King Gilgamesh’s bravest soldiers. He reportedly had been bestowed by magical powers from the gods. That didn’t worry me too much. The gods if they existed, were a fickle bunch. In the end, we’d either befriend him, or bury him for opposing Uruk’s construction needs.

Aleah was genuinely afraid when I told her the King’s plan. She’d heard the rumors of Humbaba’s titanic size and fierce reputation. I reminded her that I was most certainly spoken of in similar terms in both Crete and now Egypt. People love to embellish folktales with colorful exaggerations to add weight to them. Even being married to a ‘demigod’ herself failed to reassure her that fantastic legends are not evidence of truth. The spoken word is a powerful thing.

The journey to the forest of cedars was a long one. It takes tremendous effort to transport a royal entourage from one location to another. For this reason Gilgamesh decided to travel with a small contingent of soldiers and weapons. The strategy to travel light and fast was a sound one but it made many members of his troops nervous. Humbaba had a reputation of repelling entire invading armies in his tireless defense of the forest. Only bringing a modest garrison for the assault on his compound didn’t instill mission confidence.

“Enkidu, I need you to stay back in the shadows and strike when I have his full attention and focus. Show no mercy! I will distract him so he can’t use his divine-given powers to stop us. You must seize the opportunity and immediately extinguish his life and send him down to Ereshkigal, Queen of the underworld. The longer Humbaba remains to guard the forest, the longer his presence and reputation prevents us from taking the cedars we need.”

I’d hoped to confront this mysterious giant beast of a man and listen to his story. I suspected he was somehow a kindred spirit and deserving of my sympathy but Gilgamesh was king. Even though we’d shared many jars of beer socially in his palace, I knew we were not equals. He gave a direct order. It was to be followed without question. Perhaps killing another accursed soul and quickly putting him out of his misery was a kindness in disguise. Part of me hoped I might meet the same merciful fate some day.

I might’ve not believed it to be true had I not witnessed his terrible roar and saw the great titan for myself. I only stood to the height of his chest! The King and his soldiers were even more dwarfed by his impressive stature. A quarter of Gilgamesh’s toughest men turned and ran off like children frightened of their shadows. It was embarrassing to witness fear like that in hardened warriors but I understood their actions. Humbaba was an impressive foe to face by any measure. The soldier’s spontaneous retreat emboldened him to challenge us but he was also very aware of the king’s determined reputation.

X

News of our arrival reached him before the archers had a chance to draw their bows. He’d entrenched himself deeply into a strategic bunker awaiting the assault. While he fiercely defended the prized cedar forest of the sun god against all pillagers; there was definitely an air of respect directed at Uruk’s powerful ruler standing beside me. I slipped behind the unsuspecting behemoth as Gilgamesh distracted him with compliments and flattery.

I knew what had to be done but I felt a deep pity for him that tortured me. Like my own life, he’d surely been the victim of supernatural sorcery; and his curse meant an eternity of being feared and despised. I knew that pain more than anyone else, but even I’d experienced real love and happiness in-between the crushing weight of cruel fate. Humbaba had nothing to bring happiness or joy to his life that I could see. He been relegated by the gods to protect the lonely forest, forever. I convinced myself my stealthy assassination would soon free him from sadness and pain. It was the only thing that eased my conscience as I moved in for the kill.

He must’ve realized what was about to happen. I seized his massive arms and bound them so he couldn’t draw a sword or cast a protection spell. His fierce animalistic snarl changed almost immediately to that of a soul begging for his life. He offered to be the personal slave of Gilgamesh and even to fell the trees we needed himself, in exchange for sparing his life. I wasn’t sure what would happen next. The king appeared to be considering granting him a pardon of mercy but my instincts kicked in. I felt the need to release him from his curse so he’d finally be ‘free’; as perhaps I secretly longed to be. In one swoop I beheaded the fearsome guardian of the forest as I’d been commanded earlier to do.

Gilgamesh appeared to be genuinely stunned by the execution. Perhaps he imagined having two massive cursed demigods in his royal guard. I reminded him that he ordered me to show no mercy. Almost immediately his demeanor softened. A righteous ruler has no grounds to be angry when his servant does exactly as he asks. I gathered up Humbaba’s head to use as a visual demonstration of Gilgamesh’s ruling power. Seeing it wielded in his hands would send a strong message to any potential usurper.

Back at home, Aleah was highly distraught. Her father was showing signs of nearing the end. She was at home with him for extended periods while I was away serving the king’s official business. The mission to the cedar forest had kept me away for four months. In that time his health declined until the doctor informed us there was nothing else he could do. We tried to make him comfortable but when a man looks death in the eyes he often gets restless. We assured him we would bury him using the Egyptian customs he still followed.

When his time arrived, a herbalist was ready with poppy milk, to ease his suffering. I’d witnessed many thousands of people die in my life but his death affected me like few others. Not that Micha and I were particularly close, but I saw the sorrow it brought to Aleah. Both of her parents and our only child had ‘abandoned’ her. I was her only companion left and even when I was at home, she didn’t cleave to me as she had when she was young. She didn’t warm our marriage bed any longer or greet me with burning kisses. Our exchanges were mired in apathy or melancholy. All of her past adoration morphed into indifference. Uruk had lost its luster in her heart and I was the person who kept her there.

Gilgamesh was also restless. He feared his own mortality and was preoccupied with finding the secret to eternal life. I could’ve spared him the trouble if he’d just asked me but in all the years I’d fought at his side and served as marshal of arms and his war advisor, he never made any effort to get to know the truth about me. Living forever is a horrible curse I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy but the King wasn’t open to listen to my wisdom. Ours was mostly a one-sided friendship for our many years together; as makes sense between a high-born monarch and his ‘wild’ commoner subject. Only at the end did he fully open up his heart.

The powerful priestess Inanna had made overtures toward him for his masculine prowess, but he rebuked her sexual advances, outright. She was known to cruelly mistreat her lovers, and Gilgamesh wasn’t about to subjugate himself to her sadistic will. Unfortunately her father was a powerful cleric in service to the sun god and took great offense when Gilgamesh rejected her. Utu was so angry that he released ‘the Bull of heaven’ to trample the King when he appeared on his daily pilgrimage to the sun temple courtyard.

Centuries later, Innana, Utu and Gilgamesh were anachronistically elevated to the hierarchy of various Sumerian gods! She became the goddess of love, beauty, sex, war, and political power. Utu her father became the sun god, which he had been associated with worshipping. Even the king himself was raised up in the minds of much later men to that of divine godhood. I can assure you however they were all very much flesh and blood mortals with human failings. No man could live up to the fantastic legend that the centuries and word of mouth constructed for him. History has a way of vilifying some and making immortal heroes of others. A grain of true events becomes a mountain of folklore.

XI

If you read the later Babylonian retelling of these Sumerian and Akkadian stories you’d ‘learn’ I was punished by Utu for killing ‘the bull of heaven’ and throwing it’s severed leg at his daughter, in malice. That event actually happened. Innana was so angry with Gilgamesh for rejecting her that she stood on a nearby wall and cursed us as we dined on the bull’s roasted flesh. My punishment for mocking her feeble assassination attempt (according to the ‘Enuma Elish’) and killing their prize bull was to be grow sick and die from her father’s retaliatory curse. Then my departed spirit was supposedly taken by Ereshkigal (the dark goddess of the underworld).

In that fanciful version of events, King Gilgamesh was so distraught by my death that he tried to bargain with Goddess Ereshkigal to release me. Detailed in the tablets, he went on a series of adventures in search of answers to eternal life, but failed in the end. According to the later versions, he eventually came to accept his own mortality. The truth was considerably different. Aleah was deeply unhappy in her isolation. I tried to spend more time with her but she mostly sought the pale solace of memory. Our son Imhotep had been gone for many years. Her Mother and Father were gone. She never really converted to worship the Sumerian or Akkadian deities.

She also didn’t care for the customs of our Urukian countrymen. She felt like a stranger in a strange land; and embracing my startling appearance had changed the entire direction of her life. The lingering fear of being dragged for her inevitable journey to dwell in the netherworld haunted her thoughts, whether it be from the icy grasp of Anubis or Ereshkigal. I couldn’t console her in those matters as I no longer believed in any gods of men, nor did I fear the eternal sleep of death. I actually invited it to take me but my Minoan curse made sure I lived to witness everything else that I loved, die. Aleah wanted to spend her few remaining years in Egypt, and I couldn’t deny her that.

Explaining to Gilgamesh that I owed my wife happiness in the land of her birth wasn’t going to be easy. While we were great ‘friends’, once you are in service to the king, it‘s considered a lifetime appointment. I’d served his crown faithfully for a normal human lifetime but as a man immune to the snare of the underworld, I would never be officially free, as long as he was still alive. I took him aside that evening to unburden myself. I asked for his undivided attention to share my undisclosed story. In a testament to his receptiveness, he put aside all his court appointments and listened with an open heart and mind.

Initially his face betrayed little emotion as I revealed my ordinary childhood on the tiny Mediterranean island of my birth. Then I told him of my impatience and rebellion against my father’s career expectations for me, meeting and falling in love with Ponash, and my secret agreement with the King of Knossos to eliminate his rivals in the Minoan priesthood. I explained how I agreed to ‘fight the feared Minotaur of the maze’ (and with the greatest of ironies, I actually became the living myth I’d fought against). I told him Ponash’s well-meaning mother fed me bread purchased from a soothsayer in preparation for my battle (which had been laced with the cursed bones of my Minotaurian predecessor). That helped to clear up my supernatural metamorphosis into the creature I eventually became. In all, I shared my many incredible adventures over the centuries. All of which eventually led me to become the one he initially called: ‘Enkidu’.

His eyes lit up in amazement when I described being entombed in the dark Labyrinth; and my struggle to find my way back to Ponash. Then his lips parted in genuine sympathy and then tightened anger when I revealed she’d abandoned me for another man. Gilgamesh actually clapped his hands in joy when I told him of Queen Opel’s clever plan to use the Minotaur legend to keep the resurrected priesthood in check. He was nothing if not a lover of great strategy. Through all the ups and downs I could tell he actually envied our pragmatic love affair and highly unusual rule of Knossos.

Interestingly, he’d heard about our brilliant son Imhotep’s infamy and my fierce retaliation against the Egyptian priests who betrayed him. He had no idea I was the infamous ‘priest slayer of Egypt’. Uruk’s noble ruler marveled at how many legends and fantastic adventures I’d been associated with; most before he was born. I’d answered to many names in my long life. From ‘Minotaur of the labyrinth’, to ‘Anubis’ the priest slayer, to Kusarikku / gud-alim the bull man; and then finally Enkidu; I’d been known by many identities. My longest and closest comrade listened to the remarkable testimony without reservation or interruption.

When I reached the period of our first meeting, I stopped speaking. There was no need to relate beyond that. He knew the rest. Gilgamesh merely folded his fingers together (as he did in deep contemplation) and started at the palace floor for several moments. I assumed he was trying to absorb the unbelievable details and find words of context and comfort.

“So, you’ve been a king before as well but you are humble enough man to serve another with true humility. I realized you weren’t ’Enkidu’ that day so many years ago, but the legend of the ‘wild mountain man’ was well known to our people. My men had heard the rumors about a bull-headed creature who walked our streets and sought a ‘private’ audience with me. My spies on the road to Kish told me you ‘seemed’ benevolent, but they also saw you gore a few men alive and snap another in half like a branch. They were understandably concerned you might be a demon or Lugal assassin. I had to be careful. I was so relieved when you diplomatically spared my life and bent your knee in respect, in front of my awestruck soldiers. I knew then you were trustworthy and honorable. That’s all that mattered in the end. I’ve resisted the urge all these years to ask about your truth because I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. ‘Enkidu’ was just a comforting lie we both accepted, but now I know the genuine story. The only thing left which I wish to know my greatest friend, is your true name.”

“My name is…. Saverin.”; I choked out. It had been many, many years since I’d even uttered my birth name. It felt strange and deeply foreign, but it was also incredibly liberating to finally reveal the truth. I was so touched that he wanted to know the real man underneath the monstrous exterior that I began weeping like a child. He arose and embraced me as only a true companion would. Not since my blessed Mother’s caring touch had I experienced the same all-accepting, universal warmth. It was the last time I saw the fearsome warrior and legendary ruler, King Gilgamesh.

XII

Aleah and I left Uruk under the cover of darkness. Since abandoning the King’s guard was officially a capital offense, Gilgamesh assured me he would fake my death and declare a public period of mourning, for my many years of loyal service to the crown. The grudge that Utu and his daughter Innana bore against me served to explain my sudden ‘death’. Only I looked back at the great city in sadness when we left. Aleah’s eyes were focused squarely on the road ahead, which led back to her beloved Egypt.

Just as the long journey to Sumer had worn heavily on her mother years earlier, the difficult trek leading back to her homeland greatly affected Aleah. Along the way she confessed that her final wish was to soak her tired feet by the reeds of the Nile River bank, (one last time before passing on). I was saddened she sensed her life was almost over but she was certain ‘Anubis’ was coming to claim her soon. Unfortunately her wish to see Egypt again went unfulfilled.

A band of murderous thieves had secretly tracked us for days and attacked our camp while we slept. One of them drove a dagger into Aleah’s chest before she had an opportunity to offer him her jewels, as an incentive to spare her life. One at a time, I snapped the brittle bones in their fingers and toes as they screamed in their foreign tongue. They begged for the same mercy they denied her and I offered them none. Even with my invincibility to blades and mortal arrows, I wasn’t fast enough to save her. Aleah died in my arms and was too wounded to speak. I told her that I would love her forever and insure she was prepared for burial in the Egyptian tradition. Through immense pain she forced a smile, and then was gone. Suddenly I was alone again.

They suffered possibly more than any other fools who’d died by my hands. In the end it really didn’t matter though. Their worthless bodies were left for the jackals to feast upon and I had a sacred promise to keep. I didn’t relish the idea of returning to Egypt to arrange for her burial but a man is only worth the weight of his sacred words. If the Pharaoh or his men had tried to punish me for avenging our son all those years ago, they would’ve regretted it.

I hastened my pace to reach Egypt as quickly as possible. Even lovingly wrapped in burial linens, decay was evident almost immediately. By the time I reached the port of Alexandria which we had fled from years earlier, her body was putrid with decay. The Egyptian’s believed there was a very limited timeline to process the dead. I was rapidly approaching the point where no undertaker would honor her wishes. As luck would have it, the highly superstitious people I encountered along the way to ‘the avenue of death’ fell down on their knees as I walked by. They could smell the burden of death cradled in my arms.

Dockworkers cast their eyes down and maidens wept. Children actually wet themselves in mortified fear. ‘Anubis’ had returned to Egypt and carried with him a departed soul bound for the underworld. No one had any intention of engaging or hindering my dramatic progress. They just wanted ‘the god of death’ to pass by quickly and not seize their loved ones. For once, my inhuman appearance was beneficial. The sea of gawkers parted and scattered away in terror. Only the hardened undertaker I approached remained steadfast before me. I instructed him to treat Aleah with the utmost care despite her condition; and prepare her well for ‘the next life’. In payment I flipped him a thick golden bangle worth a dozen times his normal fee. He nodded in deep respect and took her down into the processing vault.

I didn’t stay to confirm his funerary service. A large crowd had gathered nearby. Their burning curiosity had eventually outgrown the initial fear of my unexpected arrival. It wasn’t every day a person witnessed ‘the god Anubis’ with their own eyes. It would’ve been a strategic mistake on my part to do something to which accidentally eased that respectful level of fear. I’d learned many important lessons in drama and theatrics as ‘the Minotaur’. ‘Anubis’ required the same careful nuances.

As if given a fortunate sign from the ever-absent gods, I was astonished to see Queen Opel’s luxurious yacht moored to the dock, not even a stone’s throw from where I’d abandoned it, a mortal lifetime earlier. It had lost some of its gilded appeal over the years but still bore the superior craftsmanship of a royal vessel. I didn’t posses a great deal of domestic currency to barter for it but then I realized I didn’t need any. As far as the trembling souls I encountered were concerned, I was ‘Anubis, fearsome god of the dead’. The ship’s owner saw me examining the vessel and bowed to prostrate himself before me.

“I left my vessel here 70 summers ago to deliver the dead for the next life but when I returned, it was gone from the dock. Did you steal it?”

The man trembled in grave fear. I was the supernatural manifestation of death in his mind, and I appeared to be severely angry. I felt ridiculous with all the furious pretending but even though I’d abandoned it long before he was even born, it was still technically mine. I was the rightful owner to Opel’s ship. She’d been my Minoan Queen and whoever decided to claim it knew it wasn’t really theirs. It wasn’t constructed in the crude Egyptian style of shipbuilding and the craftsmanship was for that of a king or pharaoh. He had to know the real owner would eventually return to claim it. He just didn’t expect it to be the ‘god of death’.

XIII

“It was not me, oh mighty Anubis! My grandfather found your ship adrift in the bay many, many years ago and waited for the requisite period, according to Pharaoh’s law before claiming it. We did not know it was yours, oh great one! I humbly beg your forgiveness for my family’s unintentional dishonor. Please allow us to be delivered to the next life when you deem the time has come for us.”

The young man trembled at my feet and starred in disbelief as I opened a secret panel on the side of the ship. There I retrieved a Cretan axe which had been unknown to his family since the day they had seized Opel’s yacht. The poor soul assumed I was going to slay him for his perceived slight against ‘Anubis’, but I only wanted to visually confirm that the boat was definitely mine. There was no question after that. Not that any of them would’ve challenged me anyway but it was important that they understood I was only taking back what was once clearly mine.

Back upon the open sea, I headed west. Toward what, I didn’t know. Everything had come full circle and it made sense to seek my fate in the direction of where my life began. I let the wind guide Opel’s ship. Where it pushed me didn’t really matter any more. A few days out, the water and winds grew increasingly violent. ‘Poseidon’ was apparently angry at me for assuming the personification of a deity. I’d had my fill of life and it’s many disappointments. I began to wish he would capsize the labored ship and put me out of my misery. At least then I’d have a brief chance to mock my sadistic puppeteers’.

The waves was anxious to swallow Opel’s ship. Water flooded the deck and down below. The sails whipped back and forth aimlessly and it listed seriously on its side. In full defiance of Poseidon’s evil games I fought the menacing storm but was thrown overboard by a massive surge. Try as I might, I could not swim back to the floundering vessel. It was just as well. I knew the sea would claim her exotic wooden deck and cabin soon. With strength and a will to survive I didn’t know I possessed, I remained afloat as my only salvation drifted further and further away. Soon Opel’s yacht disappeared from view and true hopelessness engulfed me.

How long I drifted alone in the open water I do not know. Day turned into night and then back into day. I eventually became delirious from dehydration and the utter isolation. While Poseidon or the other invisible gods didn’t show themselves to me, I did witness a number of great sea beasts. That served to remind me of just how small I was in the world, but the humbling didn’t stop there.

As if to add insult to injury, I had the misfortune to drift into a school of large jellyfish. I was stung dozens of times in my waterlogged skin. While I couldn’t begin to see the positive side of things at that moment, the throbbing pain from their poison nettles kept me alert and focused. Those stings also brought me the greatest gift I have ever received, shortly afterward. My fatigued body began to tingle and itch all over from the small puncture wounds. Sick with fever, hunger, and ingested saltwater, I was certain my time was finally nigh. That realization was a genuine relief. I’d lived a half dozen cursed lifetimes and that was enough punishment for my unknown ‘crimes’. Slowly, I forced myself to let go of the built-up anger and prepare for the end.

When I awoke, my unconscious body had collided with something large and very hard. Unbelievably it was the hull of Opel’s yacht! Somehow it had survived the maelstrom and was no worse for wear. The current which had initially separated us, had once again brought us back together. I dragged myself back aboard and swallowed a large jug of fresh water. It was the sweetest thing I’d ever tasted. My provisions had been well secured and very little had been lost from the harrowing ordeal. Stranger still, my massive horns felt loose on my head! They’d been such a huge part of my altered persona for so long that I felt naked when they eventually dropped to the deck from their abandoned sockets.

I didn’t realize it then but even more significant changes were occurring. My elongated face was reversing from the feral snout of a bull, to that of an ordinary human being. My reflection in the water startled me. I was no longer a grotesque monster who starred back into my saddened eyes for centuries. The gentleman who peered back at me was an older version of the young fool who’d ate the cursed bread. I couldn’t believe it. Was I dreaming? Was I really dead or still adrift in the ocean and only hallucinating? The thought terrified me that it was merely a cruel mirage I desired to be real.

As unimaginable as it seemed, it was Saverin the curious Cretan islander who grinned at me each morning when I glanced down at my fishing nets. Was the horrible curse lifted by Poseidon for my sea-born contrition, or merely by the random whim of angry jellyfish? Either way, I was destined for the excitement of new adventures. Now free from the stigma of hideous deformity, I was eager again to explore the world. All that remained was to decide if I wanted to visit mainland Greece, Sicily, Carthage, Malta, Tunisia, or any of a hundred other destinations.

I’d heard interesting tales about all of those places while the captain of Gilgamesh’s soldiers but I had no desire to be feared and despised for my unnatural appearance. That nightmare was finally over and I was free to explore the world without strangers running away in terror. I was still a giant of a man but that fact paled in comparison to having massive bull-like features and a demigod’s fearsome aura. To which strange new lands would the winds of fate blow my beautiful ship? Only time and the currents would reveal.

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