‘The capsule maneuver’

Mission control kept in constant contact with the solo pilot of the ‘Pegasus’. The fledgling spacecraft was about to enter the most critical phase of the journey. As it rocketed through the outer limits of our life-sustaining biosphere, the captain remained on high alert. The abrupt transition to a gravity-free environment would require his undivided attention. Once the ship entered the extended expanse of outer space, there would be plenty of time to relax.

The trouble was, Captain Hughes had a splitting headache. Enduring double digit ‘G’s’ for an extended period of time during liftoff had a way of doing that. Weightlessness also tended to affect an astronaut’s heart rate and blood pressure too. When a safe opportunity finally arose, he contacted Houston central command to advise them of his condition. They instructed him to take an anti-motion sickness tablet and a headache pill from the ship’s first-aid kit.

Nearing the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, he took the capsules and prepared for the vast openness of outer space. Almost immediately, he felt better. Too soon in fact; for the medication itself to be working. What had been a bleak void in front of him now seemed to be drastically different. It was as if something monumental changed the moment that he swallowed the pills.

Outside the muted influence of the biosphere, the gleaming bodies of the cosmos came alive. A plethora of stars and visible constellations were incredibly bright and colorful. The moon appeared to be massive in comparison to how it was just a few minutes earlier. He marveled at the huge difference in everything while passing through the final edge of our world. “If only the rest of the population could see this!”; He thought with a smile. Behind the ship, the Earth rapidly faded away.

Captain Hughes had no means of knowing the reason for the dramatic change in astral scenery. No human could for that matter. We couldn’t handle the truth as a species but I’m going to share the startling facts with you anyway. There’s a complex chain of events which transpires when our spaceships breach the biosphere. You see, it’s a dividing boundary that’s not supposed to be crossed.

In an astronomical realm beyond terrestrial awareness, an immortal entity enveloped Captain Hughes’ exploratory vessel. It ‘swallowed’ the ship at the exact same moment when captain Hughes swallowed his headache medicine. The perfectly orchestrated ‘capsule’ maneuver insured that no human being ever witnessed the truth beyond our protective planetary bubble. While passing through the inner space of the alien entity, the astronauts continue to experience the illusion of ‘outer space’.

In truth there is no such thing. There is only an icy void of nothingness. That, and a massive alien guardian who protects the whole of humanity from its overly-ambitious self. The twinkling stars and moon we see every night in the sky are just a spinning light show to entertain us. Captain Hughes, Houston mission control and all the future astronauts will never know the fallacy of space, but now you do. All spaceships are enveloped in the illusion of outer space, just as the Pegasus was.

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‘Lightbulb moment’

I began to notice ‘irregularities’ in our quaint little home recently. At first it was small things. Nothing specific. Just odds and ends not being where they were supposed to be. As I share the house with several other careless souls, I assumed it was simply a case of someone else moving items around accidentally. To my growing annoyance, these unexplained occurrences continued to increase in frequency.

I spoke to my aloof housemates about the perplexing situation. Despite assurances that I wasn’t angry, none of them would take credit for any of the unexplained events. I thought they were making excuses for being disorganized but I couldn’t prove it. Ultimately it wasn’t worth getting in a quarrel with them over it. The matter therefore went unresolved for a quite a while. More pressing concerns soon arose.

I felt drastic temperature changes going from room to room. The others admitted they had also noticed the same thing. I know this house is old and it’s simple to dismiss or excuse temperature anomalies on the poor insulation. Either that or the limited ventilation seemed a likely culprit. The truth is, I assumed it was one of those common things.

Our home is way past its prime and isn’t about to maintain steady climate conditions from one room to the next. I realized these facts and know it’s unreasonable to expect consistency; but a twenty degree fluctuation from one room to the next seemed very excessive. In reality, grotesquely so. I vowed to find out what was behind the suspicious ‘hot spots’ and random shuffling of household items.

In some instances, it was like a nonexistent furnace blowing hot air in my general direction. It was noticeably warmer in certain places; and the others felt it too. I would call them over and watch their eyes light up with grave concern. Isolated heat from a phantom source seemed to be drifting throughout our humble abode. Frustratingly, a thorough search of the premises failed to reveal the baffling cause.

As if those circumstances were not enough to drive one mad, all of us witnessed disembodied talking on many occasions. The unexplained voices haunted our once tranquil dwelling and increased in their occurrence. Children would laugh, a mother would scold, and then a man could be heard offering up fatherly advice and firm encouragement. It might have been heartwarming to overhear if it wasn’t just random, supernatural occurrences inspiring us to madness. My housemates and I were absolutely terrified by these phantasmagorical developments. We didn’t know what to do about any of it. It seemed that our house was possessed by invading wraiths.

In absence of a logical conclusion, I began to suspect a far-more sinister possibility. One that struck fear in the very hearts of my housemates when I shared my dark theory with them. I didn’t want to consider such a morbid conspiracy. None of us did but eventually there were no other possibilities left to consider. We had to face the frightening truth. We weren’t alone anymore.

There’s been some sort of unnatural rift opened between our world and the land of the living. We are sharing these four walls with entities that have yet to pass over into the cold realm of death. Their warm bodies are still very full of iron-rich blood; vigorously coursing through their veins like a steaming radiator. ‘They’ are the true cause of the offensive ‘hot spots’ we’ve experienced. Their presence also explains how the household items have been moved around; and the disembodied voices we’ve heard echoing through the walls.

What’s a gathering of departed souls supposed to do when haunted by the living? We want our peaceful sanctuary returned to how it was. The living and the dead were never meant to occupy the same space. We’ve decided to take it back.

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In a bottle simply labeled “P”

Down in the cellar on the fireplace mantle, I found a blown-glass bottle. It was simply labeled with the letter “P” in large, elegant script. I didn’t really know what to make of such a curious thing. It stood out among all the forgotten relics and treasures abandoned there. It was small and rather ornate, with a handmade label and decorative screw top. My eyes were immediately drawn to it, right away. It seemed like there was something almost mystical about it. I continued to examine the strange furnishings of the home in wonder and awe, but my mind kept coming back to that mysterious azure-tinted bottle.

It was absolutely mesmerizing and I kept toying with it in the palm of my hand. The cluttered appearance of the abandoned estate was perhaps an apt metaphor for it’s deceased owner’s fragmented mental state. The old man was said to be insane. If someone wandered the corridors of my own mental labyrinth, would they also find a similar degree of disarray? I chuckled at the thought of sharing that distinction with ‘The mad recluse of Pine Hill’.

My thumb and forefinger caressed the lid obsessively but for whatever reason, I didn’t dare unscrew it. That seemed like an even deeper invasion of his privacy than just to trespass the dead man’s mansion and covet his worldly things. The truth is, I was quite a bit afraid to sample the unknown liquid inside the diminutive container.

The ‘P’ could stand for absolutely anything; or inversely, nothing at all. Perfume? Potassium? Private? What about plutonium? I laughed at the unlikeliness of the last one. It could even stand for something as silly as urine (‘Pee’). I mulled over dozens of perplexing possibilities. Some were infinitely more likely than others. I noted all the extravagant antiques and oddities scattered throughout his creepy estate but none of them entranced me like that fancy bottle.

My curiosity level about it continued to rise during my little unauthorized excursion. I desperately wanted to discover its untold secrets but something kept me from following through. The sealed property was still haunted by the old man’s eclectic influence. Either intuition or my dark imagination kept me on edge as I crept through the place. I would impulsively unscrew the lid partially as I walked, and then screw it back on. I did that a half dozen times in my grip of indecision. At the time, the scales of my morbid curiosity were stacked on the erring side of caution.

‘Personal’, ‘professional’, or possibly ‘Punishment.’ I mulled countless possibilities over in my head as I explored the old man’s fascinating museum of clutter. I felt like I was being watched as I lurked around his abandoned estate. The domestic debris stretched from room to room, wall to wall, and from floor to floor. He’d amassed a lifetime of valuable keepsakes. Honestly, I did covet a few of the strange furnishings and nicknacks but only the bottle ‘had’ me. If I walked out of the place with nothing else, I was determined to keep the tantalizing bauble in my fist!

After surveying the contents of the entire homestead, I found myself back in the dank cellar room. I sat down in the old man’s overstuffed easy-chair, across from the unlit fireplace. Again, I had the distinct feeling I was being observed. There was no logical explanation for it. The old man was long gone, and buried deep in the ground. His heirs had either not been told of his passing, or simply didn’t care to collect their gloomy inheritance. Only I was present in the macabre mansion at the moment. I did my best to hold my overactive imagination in check.

My gaze was glued to the mantle where my little treasure had been. I suppose I was trying to glean its meaning by occupying the nearby proximity. ‘Perdition’? ‘Pandora’? ‘Power’? Nothing else I came up with seemed reasonable or logical anymore. I was grasping at straws, and failing miserably. I unscrewed the lid again. This time I dared to bring it to the absolute edge of the thread. After hesitating one last moment, I summoned the courage to quench my curiosity.

Off came the forbidden lid. I raised the bottle to my nose. My nostrils were filled with a peculiar fragrance I couldn’t place. It definitely wasn’t a powerful odor like perfume; nor was it unpleasantly pungent. It was just a subtle fragrance that made me feel light-headed and a little weak. My breath seemed to be stifled as if I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. The room began to spin around wildly. There were large glowing spots in my fading eyesight. “Poison!”; I smiled. At last I’d solved the mystery of the old man’s decorative bottle! What a clever trick he orchestrated! He had the last laugh from the great beyond at pillagers like me. I looked forward to congratulating him, soon.

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‘The executioner’s axe’

His axe is chipped and pitted;

with dents and a rusted blade.

It’s still sharp where it counts

and the penalty must be paid.

The handle is rugged and bare.

It’s been wielded many times.

The axeman just follows orders.

He doesn’t judge us for crimes.

In truth he serves the state;

to carry out an official task.

We condemn the profession.

Why? No one stops to ask.

Head on the chopping block.

Then down comes the swing.

It’ll all be over in a second.

By royal decree of the king.

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‘Hour of the Condemned’

(Audio narrated by yours truly)

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‘Determined sprout’

A sapling needs a guiding light; since the winter is mostly night. To grow up strong, tall, or true? ‘Straight upward’ is best to do.

As Winter ends it starts to bud. Spring rain brings heavy floods. A tree adapts as seasons pass. It’s roots dig beneath the grass.

Leaves expand like solar panels. Spreading life to all its channels. Trunk grows wide, limbs expand. All is just part of nature’s plan.

Soon the limbs touch the sky. A feat it never dreamed to try. This little tree beat the odds. It’s seed will sprout in the sod.

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‘Hour of the Condemned’

I write these final words on the eve of my doom. Whether anyone will read them is another matter. I feel compelled to dictate a warning to other wayward souls; in the unlikely event that they might actually heed them. A person should think deeply in advance about the consequences and gravity of their actions before doing them. That would be the best advice that I could offer my fellow man. In fewer than a dozen hours, I will swing from a gallows rope until dead. That doesn’t bother me. Long ago I made my peace with the reaper. It’s what may come ‘after the end’ that digs into my craw.

This isn’t meant to be a confession or last minute repentance. Nor am I pleading for undeserved mercy from the hangman’s noose. I’m guilty as sin and shall be forced to atone for my crimes once this miserable life is extinguished. As I’ve said, I’ve made peace with the dark deeds I have committed. There is no giving back the lives I have ended or the gold that I’ve stolen. What’s done is done. I shall receive no reprieve.

The stench of rot and soiled straw permeates these stone walls. Many a condemned man has gripped the rusty iron bars while staring at the deadly scaffold in the public square that awaits him. It has consumed the hope of countless wretched souls like me. I’ve grown sick of the sight of it and yet, I can not look away. It’s a horrible thing to know the time and place of your own demise. You can’t bargain with the hangman. He has a job to do.

Should I try to sleep one last time or cling to my fading hours? What’s the point of a last night’s sleep or a last meal? My appointment with death has been set. I’ve convinced myself that I will walk those final steps to my platform as a man; and not as a simpering coward. Only time will tell whether I keep my word. The padre will be back at dawn to deliver my last rites. I rejected his hollow offer of heavenly salvation. There will be no insincere act of contrition from me. I assured him he was wasting his time.

When the rope is around my neck, I will stand tall and face the rabble in staunch defiance. The crowd will still mock and jeer. The executioner will remain expressionless under his black mask. Regardless, I shan’t offer my captors the opportunity to feel better about executing me, nor will I seek to appease their guilty conscience.

You see, for the past year, I knew that my freedom was all but over. I’d escaped the determined clutches of the law too many times. Once they captured and led me away in chains, ‘justice’ would be severe and swift. There would be no Christian mercy or leniency. My sentence would be capital punishment. I accepted the truth of my eventual fate. I began to plan for that which awaited.

On every occasion which I found myself in the courtyard of the public square, I cast a dozen handfuls of black powder around the perimeter. When they finally did come for me, my retribution had already planned. A carefully hidden match, struck between my thumb and forefinger will drop from my lifeless hands as I dangle from the rope. In an instant, all the gawkers and my executioner will join me in hell. In the end, we’ll meet death together. Heed my advice. Always plan ahead.

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