Beginning of the End

Everything must eventually come to an end et cetera et cetera, and the time for this blog to come to an end has arrived. Well, nearly arrived. This marks the last post I will ever make on taylortps.wordpress.com.

I started this blog in September of 2012, a big year for me in many ways. Since then a whole two years has passed, and I’ve loved sharing my journey in becoming a better writer with you all along the way. I’ve since graduated high school and am splitting my time between part time work in manufacturing and earning my Liberal Studies degree, something I never would have thought I could balance two years ago. I’ve learned to cook large and varied meals, made new acquaintances, become a youth leader at my local church, reconnected with old friends, and lost a few people close to me in that time.

I’ve also decided how I want to move forward as a writer. Quite a while has passed since my Creative Writing class at The Potter’s School required me to post here every week, and my stories have become few and far between. I’d like to just wave it off and say I don’t have the time to write, but the truth really is you only have the time for something if you make the time for it.

A couple weeks ago whilst reading a humorous article on New Years resolutions, I began to ponder what kind of a resolution I could make this coming year. I eventually decided my biggest would be to regularly take time for writing. At the same time, I decided wordpress.com’s free hosting just wasn’t enough for my needs, so I registered a domain and purchased a hosting plan with Siteground.com.

Starting very early 2015, I will begin posting on taylorclogston.com. It’s still going to be using WordPress’ blog software, and I’m even using the same theme (though differently laid out) but with a dedicated host I’ll be able to do much more than WordPress.com allows. I’m looking forward to writing on it, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading on it.

Some of what I’ll be publishing during the coming year:

  • The heavily-edited and expanded story of The Extraordinary Seeker, my Creative Writing final project.
  • A sequel to the aforementioned story.
  • Several short stories and a full-length book about The Unwaking World, home to sorcerer-swordsmen, demon gods, cultists, seers, and much more.
  • Lampoon fanfiction.
  • General scifi and fantasy short stories.

I can’t transfer subscribers from one site to the other, but if you want to be notified when the very first post pops up on my new blog, jump over to taylorclogston.com and put your email into the subscribe box, which is in the same location it is on this site.

Thanks for sticking with me for two years, everybody! Have a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.

-Taylor

A God and a Hero

This is my attempt at a deconstruction of the superhero genre. One traditional superhero origin story, patterned after a traditional fairy tale format, involves an unsuspecting and average human who is given superpowers to combat a powerful evil bent on destroying humanity. I’m warning you in advance; there’s quite a bit of blood and violence in this story. Read at your own discretion.

I raise the handgun to my temple, pull back the hammer with my thumb, and squeeze the trigger. The bullet races down the barrel and stops upon contact with my skin. My eardrums bleed, but soon close up. “Limitless power,” I tell the horrified young man whose gun I have taken. “You had more options to choose from than the number of cells in that body of yours, and you chose THAT?” My left arm snaps forward, bones cracking under the sudden strain, and Robert’s—that’s the name he’s going by, at least— jawline explodes under the impact as my lead-lined gloves flatten the side of his head like an egg dropped upon a sidewalk.

Contemptuously, I throw away Robert’s gun, leaving his body to bleed out on the basement floor. He’s one more down, but I enjoy it more when they provide a challenge. My brothers and sisters, the gods.

That’s what the humans have called us throughout their history, and so that’s what I’ll call us. We’re not really gods, though. Well, I suppose to the humans we might be. We occupy a higher dimension of reality. Time and space, the natural reality of the human world, are toys to us. I myself am still in… I suppose you could call it school. Along with many others of my kind, I’m participating in a creativity project. A kind of test to determine my aptitude in certain areas. This has been done many times before, and I’m sure you’ve heard of some of them. The participants weave together a mortal body and descend into the human world, set at a certain task. The Greek pantheon was a class set at creating a government, and for a while they did a pretty good job.

Personally, though, I think Zeus and his boys were pretty boring. They each just took a few elemental abilities, a dose of agelessness, and called it a day. Like Robert did, actually. He’s dead now because he didn’t pay attention during class, and he ended up with simply an incredibly attractive and athletic body. That’s it.

I don’t claim to be a genius, but I knew exactly what I wanted. My body is average at a glance, but the abilities I have drawn up are anything but. I can manipulate the inertia of my own body and the matter close to me at will, giving me incredible speed and strength should I so choose. I also made a simple regeneration matrix which will heal my physical body as it is damaged at a remarkably accelerated rate, lowering my body’s natural life span considerably as it does so. I won’t need it for long, though, because our exercise is almost complete.

The project simply involves slaughtering each other with the abilities we have constructed. The last man standing wins.

I like it.

As I exit the building wherein lies Robert’s empty corpse, a twenty-foot metal spike comes rushing towards my chest from Evelyn, another student from my class. I flick it away with a light brush, bat away the barrage of twisted steel which follows, and leap from the ground into the air, driving my fist through Evelyn’s heart faster than the human eye can see. We fall to the ground together, her already empty shell splattering upon the asphalt, and myself coming to an abrupt stop as my feet touch the pavement. I withdraw my arm from Evelyn’s body and run swiftly down the street towards massive sleet storm I see in the distance.

All around me, the city lies in ruins. I pass hundreds of destroyed buildings and leap over vehicle upon abandoned vehicle. The corpses of many bystanders litter the streets, and many more survivors hide in fear, but no emergency sirens fill the air. One of my careless or cruel brothers must have destroyed them all.

My opponent this time is John, my best friend. I like the guy, but he’s really never been very smart. I race through a half-mile of sleet which is so thick it shatters glass and coats the ground in inches of black ice, the frozen rain stopping and sliding away fractions of a millimeter before coming into contact with my skin, before I come upon John hovering fifty feet above the ground, slinging ice and wind around with obvious glee. Finally he notices me and waves, a huge grin plastered on his face. “How’re you doing?” he shouts above the wailing of the storm.

“Not bad!” I call in return. “Having fun?”

“Yeah!” The gale subsides somewhat and he descends to my level. “Ready?” he asks, still grinning. He spreads his arms wide and the swirling winds pressurize into intensely cold and vicious tendrils. My mortal eyes can’t see them, but I can sense them just the same.

“Ready!” I almost laugh at the look of disbelief on his face as I move so fast as to flicker from view. I don’t just kill him, though. That’d be no fun. Instead I fling my body upwards and to the left, ricocheting off a half-broken skyscraper, gathering sleet around me in a sheath of ice as I move. Finally I come to a momentary halt thirty feet above John, and give a barking shout of warning.

My friend looks up and the dawning comprehension of fear fills his face as the sleet comes slicing towards him like the bullets of an icy firing squad. Forgetting the abilities he himself chose, he instead twists to avoid the majority of the ice, though a sizable cluster still rips an arm away. John screams in agony, and the storm rages in response. I bounce from building to building to avoid the icy tendrils of wind which threaten to rip me limb from limb, as I haven’t mastered my abilities enough to influence something as incorporeal as air. One tendril just barely catches my calf, slicing a tendon and simultaneously burning the flesh with its intense cold, blackening it and causing it to crumble. I wince and regenerate the flesh, but the shock of the pain is enough to make me stumble.

John takes advantage of this to throw all his sleet and every tendril at my heart, seeking to impale me, but I quickly dig my fingers into a crack in the street and heave up a gigantic section of asphalt, using it as a shield. The sleet shatters harmlessly upon it, but I know the compressed air will punch through the crumbling street if I give it a chance. With a bellow of rage, I rush forward and upwards with the asphalt barrier still clutched in my white-knuckled hands, slamming into John and driving him through the side of a brick-walled bistro. Slowly, the storm dies down, and I stagger out of the ruins of the bistro, breathing heavily. I finally grin. That had been fun.

***

After two grueling days of encounters with my classmates, I feel tired. I’ve given my body the minimum amount of time required for rest and recuperation, allowing the body’s life force to do most of the sustaining, but I know it won’t stay active for much longer as it is. I also know the few opponents I most likely have left will be incredibly powerful and cunning, and I can’t risk sleeping.

As I run at a breakneck speed through the streets of the burning and broken city, I notice a multitude of lights all over pointing to one building, an enormous skyscraper near the heart of the city. I had avoided it earlier as I was sure there would be too many contestants in one central location like that, enough so I might fall victim to a stray stone or accidental kick, but with the field so cleared, I decide it’s worth the risk.

I take a split second to plot my trajectory and leap nearly a half mile, coming to a solid stop on the building’s roof. Standing across from me is Annie, who I know to be the most gifted student in our class. I tense my muscles, but she smiles and holds her hands up in protest. “Hold on a moment. Just so you know, we’re the last ones left.”

I relax—just in the slightest—and cock my head. “Really?” I don’t doubt Annie has known exactly where we’ve been the entire time. I don’t know her very well on a personal level, but I do know she’s a very honest and honorable person, so I don’t expect a trick. “So you know I killed most of them. Are you ready for our final fight?” I’m not sure I can win, especially without knowing what her powers might be, but I’m willing to give it my best shot.

“No, no,” Annie says, and walks slowly towards me, her hands at shoulder height, palms up. “I don’t have any powers left.”

Suddenly, I realize she’s telling the truth. The buzz of energy present near each of my classmates isn’t present in Annie’s mortal body. Could she have found a way to hide her energy? Maybe I was wrong about her being honest. I move into a fighting stance.

Annie stops in front of me, raising her chin. “Please just make it easy. If you cut through my throat and spine at the same time, I shouldn’t experience much pain.”

“You’re just going to let me kill you?”

“Like I said, I’m all out of power. I’m forfeiting.”

I remove my glove and raise my hand, growing my nails to a length of two centimeters. She’s convinced me. I guess she was honorable after all. I might as well give her a clean death. “What were your powers?” I ask curiously.

A chilling smile spreads across her face, and her eyes narrow. “I was saving them for the last of you,” she says. “I want to see just how high humans can rise.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“I made a superhero. You can kill me now.”

As I draw my hand from Annie’s throat, I wonder what she meant. I didn’t realize the man was coming until I found myself slammed into the roof, the ribs on the right side of my body crushed beneath the punch of Annie’s superhero.

“You’re the one who did all this,” the man growls. He looks perfectly ordinary, except for the hazy glow in his eyes and the fact he’s levitating three inches above the surface of the roof. “I’m gonna kill you!”

As his kick shatters my shoulder (I’m too shocked to react) and catapults me over the side of the roof, I get it. Annie saw the wreckage of the city, and gave one of its inhabitants her power. My only consolation is he’s probably merely a battery. I highly doubt a mortal can comprehend the kind of knowledge it would take to make creative use of our powers.

By the time I hit the ground, I’ve mostly healed my ribs and shoulder, and have composed myself enough to halt my inertia so I don’t splatter like a rotten tomato upon contact with the asphalt. I swiftly turn and try to swipe away the incoming hero, but he must have some kind of deinterlacing field around him, because my powers are nullified somewhat as I touch him. He still slams me into the ground, but I am able to kick him back into the sky. I leap upwards, taking a Chevy with me, and swing the vehicle like a bat, smashing the car into pieces and sending my enemy spinning into and through the side of a building. I leap off one of the falling pieces of the Chevy and pull many of them with me, rocketing forwards towards the gaping hole in the steel structure. The hero flails a bit and manages to dodge my entry, though a large piece of windshield gores him in the back, causing him to cough up some blood. I watch as the glass shard extrudes itself and the wound closes. Of course, regeneration, though it seems to be of a higher caliber than mine.

This time the hero manages to get a couple hits in as my powers are once more nullified by whatever ability Annie gave him. I lose several teeth and a ringing fills my ears as the man batters at my jaw with three lightning-fast punches. I growl and respond by head-butting him in the nose. He skids backwards, blood streaming from his mashed face, and I take the opportunity to kick him out of the building.

I heal quickly, but I can feel my powers are beginning to run out. I can’t take this for much longer. Somehow this idiot mortal has caused more damage to me than any single classmate thus far. I leap from the hole in the building and bounce between two skyscrapers to minimize my power usage as I return to the ground. I look up at my opponent, who is hovering thirty feet in the air and glaring down at me.

“Why did you do this!?” He screams, fists clenched, veins standing out on his forehead and neck. “My wife, my kids, my neighbors, my friends! You killed them all! WHY!?”

I roll my eyes. “Whatever.” I need to get him to drain his power before I drain mine. I suppose I could just give up and let him kill me, and I’d still win the exercise, but this has been a big enough annoyance I want to see it through.

Kneeling down, I dig my hands into cracks in the street as I did earlier, and heaving, rip up two massive chunks of asphalt wider than cars. I spin swiftly around and heave the two at the hero, one after another, and grabbing a twisted section of light pole, leap after them. The hero smashes my projectiles with two well-placed punches, but takes my weapon through his stomach, allowing me to continue forward, sliding grisly along it and ramming into him with all the force of a freight train behind my body. The two of us speed swiftly through the air, smashing with a devastating shockwave into the side of the building whereupon Annie died.

We slide together to the ground, my body broken in a hundred places, oozing blood in irregular spurts upon the sidewalk. I twist my head to the side, wincing at the grind of chipped and slipped vertebrae, and see the haggard face of an old man in a reflective sheet of broken glass lying a few feet away. I know I don’t have nearly enough energy in this body to even begin to heal my injuries, but I smile knowing at least I was able to take my opponent with me.

“Hey.” A thick hand grabs my head and wrenches it around, causing agony to shoot through my body. I see the face of the hero staring at me. It’s broken and knobbly, and the huge hole from the light pole still gapes in his abdomen, but he is healing. The battery of power is almost faded, I can tell, but he has enough to survive. “I wanna know. Why. Tell me why.”

I draw in a ragged, wet, bloody breath—and laugh hoarsely. My laugh dies away into a gurgling wheeze as the life leaves my body, and then I wake up.

“Well done,” our teacher tells me as I shake off the last few scraps of time and space clinging to my being. “You were the last survivor. You won.”

“No,” I say. “Tell Annie she won. It was a good fight, though.”

“If you say so. You seem to be taking this awfully well.”

“Hey,” I shrug. “It was just matter. It’s not like it really matters. I’ll just tell Annie myself.” I walk away, content with an exercise well performed. Even if I didn’t beat Annie’s hero, I still had a great time.

***

Alexander Hughes fell to his knees, sobbing over the corpse of the monster who had slaughtered an entire city without a thought, and then had laughed. Not a shred of remorse, nor even anger. Just… A laugh. Alexander turned his eyes to the heavens, tears welling in the corners of his eyes. He could feel the power within him fading, as the angel had said it would when his task was complete. The world would never be the same, especially for Alexander, but life would go on. Even if the world never knew why the unholy monsters had come to destroy the city, they were gone now. Alexander had stopped them.

That was all that mattered.

A Compelling Argument

I wrote this a month or so ago, and have been building up the courage to post it here. I know right away it will be offensive, because it follows naturalism to its logical conclusion, and that conclusion is not a pleasant one. For the record, I have personally been on the receiving end of every one of the atheist’s arguments. There are truly people who think like he does, and that is a terrifying thought. Thank you for reading, and may the Lord use it to impress something meaningful upon your heart. ~Taylor

She sat beside him in the nearly-empty pew only moments before the minister opened his Bible to begin the sermon. “You won’t want to sit here,” he murmured to her. “I’m an atheist.”

“That’s fine,” she whispered back, to his surprise. “I’m an agnostic.”

“Really?” he responded curiously. “Interesting. Do you mind coming to lunch at the pub across the street after the service?”

“Sure.” She was confused as to why an atheist would sit through a church service, but put it out of her mind to focus on the minister’s words.

Throughout the message, the atheist took down notes on a pad of academic paper, and glanced intermittently over to his companion to gauge her response to the message. He watched as hope turned to anger, and anger turned to disappointment. He smiled.

After the service ended, the agnostic and the atheist filed along down the center aisle along with the rest of the churchgoers, and the minister greeted the man cordially as he did every week. “Stow it, Charlie,” the atheist sniffed disdainfully, and rolled his eyes conspiratorially at his companion. She returned a half-smile.

Over a lunch of chicken and potatoes at the pub across the street, the atheist explained his presence at a church service to the agnostic. “I’m a professor of philosophy at the University–you know the one–and my current series of lectures concerns the stupidity and danger inherent in living a life based on delusions of the supernatural and religion. Every week I visit that church and listen to the propaganda spewed forth from the pulpit unto the ignorant masses who consistently lap it up like sick dogs at their bile, and gather material to reference in my upcoming lecture. It’s a hard task, but one I must undertake for the good of the common people who cannot by their own power distinguish the urgent danger in which their intelligence is placed by such false hopes.”

The agnostic nodded slowly. The man was talking much too quickly for her to take much in, but she at least understood she was in the presence of a very intelligent and learned man. “Yes, well, err, perhaps you could help me, Professor?”

“How so?” the atheist asked, cynically raising one eyebrow.

“My mum and da were Catholic, and so they raised me. But once I got a place of my own I realized the Church does some things that don’t… Don’t seem right, I suppose. Not in the Book. So I looked for another church, and have been for a couple months. Nothing ever seems clear, though, and I’ve got to the point where…” She glanced around as if she expected to see the Bishop of Canterbury standing beside her shoulder, and lowered her voice a little. “I just don’t know if any of it will ever make sense. None of the churches agree on anything, you know, and how can any of them be right when the Book says… Oh, that part about Hell not prevailing? That means one’s right or they’re each wrong because it’s all a bunch of crock, and I don’t know which it could possibly be.”

The atheist nodded sympathetically through her hesitant speech. When she had finished talking, he took a draught of beer and then responded. “Disgusting. Simply disgusting.”

“Sir?” The agnostic was taken aback.

“Not you. Your parents. It is sickening that so many families will stoop so low as to indoctrinate children with that worthless drivel. It’s abuse, I say. No better than murder in the long run. It kills their minds, you see.”

The agnostic nodded slowly again, not quite sure what to make of the tirade. She felt she would be doing a lot of that over the course of the conversation.

“I mean,” the professor continued, “Look at yourself. You have been raised to believe that some form of Christianity must be true. Because of that, you make yourself purely miserable as you consistently find that reality does not match your preconceptions.”

“I suppose you’re right,” the agnostic said slowly, but the atheist kept going. He ranted in a similar vein for several minutes before calming down and giving a very condensed version of several of his recent lectures, sketching diagrams and proofs on a piece of foolscap from the day’s message notes. Finally, the agnostic was satisfied that atheism was indeed the most likely answer. She couldn’t understand much of what the professor was trying to explain to her, but he did seem like a very intelligent man, and so she decided he must be right.

“But then,” she asked, after her companion had concluded his impromptu lecture, “where do we get our morals from?” She decided that sounded very intelligent, and expounded further upon it after a moment’s thought. “Err… Is majority opinion good? Or is… Is mankind so evolved that we have right and wrong in our heads as instinct?” Her voice began to fade as the professor looked down his spectacles at her in pity.

“Morals. Hmph. I suppose you’ve heard a lot of so-called philosophers out there claim we don’t need God because we are more than capable of generating a moral code without him. Those people are deceiving themselves. They are pathetic, and they should make any intelligent man’s face twist up in disgust like mine at the mention of their names.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little harsh, sir?” the agnostic asked, surprised as this suddenly vehement turn in the conversation.

“It is not yet harsh enough. These people we speak of are no better than miserable theists. They acknowledge a part of the truth, but refuse to leave behind the trappings of heathen theism, this ‘morality’ they love so much. What use is morality? Where does it have a place in nature?”

“B-But… Umm… What about the g-good of society?” the agnostic questioned, eyes wide, frantically searching for words to defend what she was increasingly feeling to be a thoroughly irrational standpoint.

“Society functions better without them. Look at rodents, living together in massive burrows. A rabbit warren functions more fluidly than a human one, and rabbit mothers eat their children alive as a matter of course. They hear the snapping bones and mewling cries as they devour their own newborns, and that is their morality.”

His companion cringed at this, half-raising a hand in protest. The atheist, however, was not finished.
“Or take bees, wasps, and ants. The queen of a beehive is the most promiscuous creature on the planet, and after a short period of gross carnality the males of a colony are shoved out of doors to die of exposure. The society of a beehive is abhorrent to the theocized man, but no government found in Plato works half as well.” His voice became sibilant and soft, and the agnostic found herself leaning in slightly to catch his words. “You see, even the concept that society comes before self is unique to the theist. You are the one who matters to you, and I am the one who matters to me. After I die, all the problems of the world will have fallen behind me, and I will be in no position to enjoy any positive memory or honor which might be given me. So, there exists no incentive to make a single action which does not benefit me here and now, in life, and if everyone thought the same, then would the potential of our species be unlocked at its fullest. Instead, we live in a theistic world where we teach our children–our children–to love your neighbor and treat others how you want to be treated. What’s the result? You, and people like you.

“I dream of a world…” the atheist’s eyes glazed over and his voice dropped even lower, “Where I can kill a man for ridiculing me in the street. Where I can see a fine-looking girl–or boy–and have her right away for as long or short a time as I want.”

The agnostic, herself a fine-looking girl, felt a little uneasy at this, and moved slightly away.
“Where,” the atheist continued, eyelids drooping and speaking in a voice softer than ever, “A man as wise and educated as myself would be worshiped and revered as the god I am… A true god among men… Like Nero and Hitler before me…”

It seemed to the agnostic that neither of the men mentioned had come to a particularly good end, but she kept this to herself. “Those people aren’t very well liked,” she said instead. The atheist snapped out of his gross daydream.

“Liked?” he scoffed. “That’s a bit too close to love, and there’s no place for love in the real world. Lust, yes, dominance, yes, but not love. When have you ever seen an animal love? It’s just a term used in fairy stories, like monster and idol, a word which doesn’t really exist. Love is merely a word used by a person in submission to make herself feel like she has some justification for the dominance of another over her.

“Love or like isn’t something to be sought after.” He raised a fist up towards the ceiling. “Respect and fear are what drive a successful man! Babylon, Rome, Britain! These are the great empires ruled with a hand clenched in dominance, not a compassionate palm ready to stroke and pet!” He relaxed a bit and quieted down. “At the end of the day, it’s not a very pleasant message. Sometimes an intelligence such as my own seems almost too great a burden to bear.”

“Then why force others to share the burden?” his companion asked despairingly.

“Why?” the atheist’s face was blank. “Because it’s the truth. People need to hear the truth.”

“Why!?” the agnostic whined again, petulant as a young school girl. “The world isn’t going to change, no matter how much you want it to, and we’re all just going beneath the dirt at the end of the day, so why ruin the contentment so many people feel with such a harsh and cruel truth?”

“The truth, no matter how difficult, is more desirable than a bundle of comforting deception,” the agnostic replied tersely. “That’s the only real moral in the world. “The theist would have men trade their brains for a pillow of down upon which to rest his sorrows, and I cannot stand for that. Until my dying breath, I will continue to cut down the weeds of ignorance sown by the minister and the street-preacher, because this is what is true, and therefore it is the only right.”

The two sat in silence for a moment. Finally the agnostic rose, shakily pushing out her chair behind her. “I believe I will go home now,” she said tiredly. “I don’t expect I’ll see you in the church again, so don’t bother looking around for me.”

“I won’t,” the atheist said, and dug heartily into her untouched chicken as she left.

*****

The following day, the atheist read in the paper about the suicide of his lunch companion. Her family was, of course, distraught. She left no note. “What a weakling,” the atheist laughed to himself. “Some people simply cannot handle reality.” That day, as he lectured, he included the story of his conversation with the agnostic as a chilling warning as to the dangers of a mindset merely subconsciously influenced by theism, even when the rational self knew the truth. His students scribbled down notes studiously.

Teens Involved 2013

My story for 2013 Teens Involved. Feedback would be very, very welcome!

The officer’s shoes thumped softly as the tall man strode through the hallway. He stopped before one door with a few words written upon it designating the room as a holding cell. The officer unlocked the door, entered, and slammed it behind him. He gazed down at the bulky prisoner sitting upon the cell’s cot. The foreigner stared back with eyes full of hatred.

 

“The law you broke is absolute. It says you must die. But this is your first offense, and I am a merciful man. If you sign this and give a verbal apology to the captain, you can go. Just stay out of trouble, all right?” The prisoner remained silent.

 

The captain coughed. “Come on, I’m trying to show you mercy.”

 

The unrepentant criminal slowly raised his eyes to meet the captain’s gaze. He opened his mouth to speak.

 

***

 

Edward shuffled his notes. Tonight was the campus debate between Alex and him. The two straight-A students were best friends, but Edward was a Buddhist and Alex a Christian. This difference had never posed much of a problem to them for the several years they had been buddies, but recently a hubbub had been raised in the city their campus was located in concerning discrimination against the growing Muslim population.

 

As the two friends sat in Alex’s apartment, eating nachos and watching the news, Edward had remarked, “The world would be better if we could all just let other people live in peace. All this fuss just because someone’s a Muslim? They’re obviously not radical terrorists. Their brand of Islam is just as harmless and valid as those bigots’ Christianity.”

 

He crunched down on another nacho and was about to ask a question about a history assignment when Alex unexpectedly spoke up. “Yeah, those people are definitely taking it too far. But that’s going a bit to far to say Islam is just as valid as Christianity.”

 

Edward looked up, surprised. He had known his friend was a Christian, but Al had always been such a nice and intellectual guy Ed had assumed the other student was just as tolerant and accepting as himself. But here Al was, talking like one of the bigots on the news! “Are you joking, Al? I’d have thought you were smarter than that. You’re one of those radicals who really thinks your religion is the only true one?”

 

“Of course. That’s one of the fundamental teachings of the Bible. And what do you mean, ‘smarter than that?'”

 

Since then the boys had done quite a bit of arguing, but in order to preserve their friendship had finally agreed to settle their differences with a public campus debate. They had each spent a week preparing, and now it was only minutes away. Edward felt himself tingling with excitement. He had always loved speaking in front of groups, and he was eager to show his best friend the error of his ways so he could start thinking clearly.

 

“Edward Armondson, you may begin,” the moderator said, and then stepped back. There wasn’t any real debate team on the campus, so nobody really had any idea of proper debate form. The two friends would simply argue back and forth, but the onlookers would provide accountability to keep the discussion from getting too heated.

 

“Thanks. All right then. Alex, you maintain your religion, Christianity, is the only valid religion. By extension, you believe anyone who is not a Christian is going to go to Hell when they die, a place in which they will be in constant agony for all eternity. Christians, on the other hand, will enjoy eternal bliss as a reward.”

 

“Pretty much,” Alex replied, “though Heaven and Hell are a little bit more complicated than that.”

 

“Alex, do you know how many different religions there are in the world?”

 

“Over seven hundred,” his friend replied immediately. He had done just as much research as Ed had.

 

“And out of those seven hundred, you maintain your is the only true path to enlightenment or eternal life or whatever the ultimate goal of mankind may be?”

 

“That is correct.”

 

“Does that not seem arrogant to you, to tell someone they are wrong and you are right?”

 

Alex smiled. “One of them has to be right, and considering most of those religions conflict in various ways, it only makes sense at least some of them have to be wrong.”

 

“What makes you think yours is the right one?”

 

His friend did not respond immediately. He thought for a moment, and then answered. “I think it’s my turn to ask a few questions, buddy. What is your religion?”

 

Edward didn’t take offense. His friend could have a turn. “I’m a Buddhist,” he said proudly.

 

“Explain to us what Buddhism teaches about other religions.”

 

“All right,” Edward responded. “Strictly speaking, Buddhism is not a religion. We do not worship a god. We strive to obtain release from the physical world and ascend to a state of release. Really, a person of any religion could adopt Buddhist philosophy without conflicting with his or her faith. Unless,” he continued with a frown, “that person arrogantly believes his or her religion is the one and only path to that release. That is unkind, and Buddhism is not unkind.”

 

Alex nodded slowly. “Thank you. All right then, Edward. So, from what I understand of the doctrine of karma, your actions will either bind you more closely to the world or help liberate you. Is this correct?”

 

“As you said earlier, it’s a little bit more complicated than that. But that’s a fair approximation.”

 

Alex smiled warmly. “By your standards, I have lived a pretty good life. If I am ultimately wrong and you are ultimately right, there’s no harm done on my end. But what happens if I’m right and you are wrong?”

 

The debate continued for almost two hours, and while each student made many good points and the audience clapped enthusiastically afterwards, still that sentence rang in Edward’s head over and over again. “But what happens if I’m right and you are wrong?”

 

It continued to bother him for the next week. Finally Edward succumbed to the voice in his head and began to do a bit of research. He read Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews and several other documents which proved Jesus at least existed. He read through various books of the New Testament to get a better feel for Christianity’s doctrine. He read stories of ordinary men whose lives were dramatically changed, and who attributed the change to Jesus. He read about a faith which promised a free gift to all who would believe.

 

One night Alex heard a knock on his apartment door. He opened it to find his friend Ed, hunched over in an effort to ward off the cold. “What’s up?”

 

Edward looked up with a scowl on his face. “Al. What would you say if I said I would have to stop being your friend if you kept up your exclusivist doctrine?”

 

Alex looked sadly across the threshold at his friend. He had never thought it would come to this. “Then, I would have to say goodbye.”

 

“You’re sure?”

 

“I’m afraid so.”

 

Edward stepped through the door. “So you are serious. All right, no need to say goodbye. Please, tell me some more about your faith.”

 

Alex smiled and welcomed his friend into the apartment.

 

***

 

Several years passed. The boys graduated but remained best friends. Alex became a Psychology professor at the same college they had attended, and Edward was soon known as one of the most successful architects in New York State. But something always seemed like it was missing.

 

One day as Ed was reading from the New Testament one line caught his eye. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19 ESV) So many people in the world had not accepted the gift Eduard had eventually accepted, and that thought made Ed feel depressed. He remembered the question his friend Al had asked him years ago in their debate. “But what happens if I’m right and you are wrong?” All those people who lived according to their various faiths, had any of them ever considered that question?

 

“You want to be a missionary?” Al asked incredulously when Edward told him of his plan. “You’re a successful architect, and you want to just throw that away?”

 

“It’s not throwing it away,” Edward countered.

 

“Yes it is. You spent years studying for that degree.”

 

“Well in one way I suppose it is throwing it away, but I’m discarding it to replace it with something better.”

 

“Look, don’t take me wrong,” Al said, “I’m not saying being a missionary is bad. But you already have so much.”

 

“I have so much, and they have so little. I believe the Lord gave me this success so I could provide my own funding. At my estimation, my savings can provide for eleven years.”

 

“You seriously have that much saved up?”

 

“Well… Total value of everything. House, belongings, savings, et cetera.”

 

Alex fell silent. “You are absolutely insane. Is there any chance I can change your mind?”

 

“Nope.”

 

Edward heard a wave of static as his friend sighed over the phone. “All right then. If I can’t dissuade you, I’ll be praying for you.”

 

“Thanks, buddy.”

 

***

 

For years Edward served as a missionary in Africa, traveling to various villages and cities to give out the gift he himself had received that cold night in college. He spoke mildly and yet confidently, even when threatened or mocked. He didn’t argue much, but every time left his listeners with the question he had received and which had changed his life. “But what happens if I’m right and you are wrong?” He left the Lord to finish the rest, and finish it He often did.

 

But after many years, war broke out in a small Central African country and the old government was overthrown. According to the new law, Islam was the only religion allowed to be practiced or taught. Many other missionaries fled the country, but Edward stayed to do the Lord’s work. Finally the law caught up to him and Edward, now on the verge of old age, was thrown into jail.

 

***

 

The officer’s shoes thumped softly as the tall man strode through the hallway. He stopped before one door with a few words written upon it designating the room as a holding cell. The officer unlocked the door, entered, and slammed it behind him. He gazed down at the bulky prisoner sitting upon the cell’s cot. The foreigner stared back with eyes full of hatred for the cruel angel who twisted man’s yearning for God into such a terrible thing.

 

“The law you broke is absolute. It says you must die. But this is your first offense, and I am a merciful man. If you sign this and give a verbal apology to the captain, you can go. Just stay out of trouble, all right?” The prisoner remained silent.

 

The captain coughed. “Come on, I’m trying to show you mercy.”

 

The unrepentant criminal slowly raised his eyes to meet the captain’s gaze. He opened his mouth to speak. “You speak of mercy, but you yourself reject the mercy of the most holy God.”

 

“I worship God.”

 

“Then why do you imprison me for teaching of His love?”

 

“You teach Jesus was God.”

 

“I let God do the teaching. I am merely His instrument.”

 

“Whatever. It is all the same.” A look of pity crossed the officer’s face briefly. He was not a cruel man, but the law of the Prophet must be upheld. “No hope?”

 

“If you mean is there a chance I will repent, then no. But there is always hope.”

 

***

 

“Any last words?” the captain asked as he held the sword high in the air.

 

“I leave you with one question. What if I’m right, and you are wrong? Just think about it.”

 

The captain grunted as he swung the sword down with both muscled arms. It had been just about eleven years since Edward had begun his ministry. For a long, long time that question rang through the officer’s head over and over again. “What if I’m right, and you are wrong? Just think about it.”

 

***

 

Ten years later a man who had once been an officer in a small African country stood over an unmarked grave. It was indistinguishable from the surrounding desert, but the man knew where the grave lay because he had dug it himself. Ten years ago he had executed a missionary in the name of Allah. Tonight he silently thanked the Lord for sending that missionary into his life and for the thousandth time begged forgiveness for the many murders he had committed in his career. For a long, long time now he had assisted and ministered to the underground church in that same small African country, and while the Lord might call him home any day through the hands of the Islamic government, for the time being the man served the Lord with everything he had.

 

“You were right,” the man said softly, gazing across the desert painted red as the blood of a martyr by the setting sun. “And I was wrong.”

The Bad Doctor

Short story loosely based the Fear Mythos’ Plague Doctor.

Oh dear God, please let it stop. That’s a prayer.

I am in hell, to be sure. Every inch of my body burns with an acidic and torturous pain man was not meant to experience. Because you know, man is meant to die, and they will not let me die.

Do you know how a muscle burns and shivers when you have been using it for too long? Are you familiar with that kind of pain? Imagine it not in one or two little muscles in your arms and legs, little areas you can comfortably rest, but in every inch of your body. Can you imagine how it would feel if your heart cramped? If it contracted and refused to relax? But even then they stuck needles into your chest and pumped you full of burning drugs which forced your heart on again like using a whip to drive a dog? Can you imagine them sticking more needles into your lungs and pumping them full—oh, full almost to bursting—of oxygenated gel to keep the life in your veins but which makes you feel always as if you were drowning and suffocating?

You might shake your head yes or nod in pathetic sympathy, but you have no clue. I am bound here by a thousand needles and devices and drugs, always alive but praying for death. They won’t even let my brain rot but keep it nice and fresh with daily electric jolts—Imagine licking a lightning bolt and feeling your bones rattle and strip away from your flesh before melting like butter back onto your scorched frame. Now imagine it again. And again. And again.—and a perpetual liquid nitrogen bath which almost perfectly emulates the condition young children call “brain freeze.”

They visit me often and gaze upon me with their loving smiles and kind eyes and damning pocketbooks, and every time I feel the urge to kill them rise so strong it almost drowns out the thousand and one different levels of pain above the pitiful scale of ten nurses describe. I almost wish they were experiencing the same pain I am, but even I couldn’t possibly be that cruel. My only consolation is the thought that one day his time must run out as mine and so many others’ should have, and maybe I can finally die in peace.

***

“Are you sure he can hear everything we’re saying?” The daughter asked, concerned. She visited her father every week, occasionally accompanied by one of her kids and his or her family. Though they talked to—or rather at—his comatose body every time, he never so much as twitched, let alone replied.

“Oh yes,” the doctor replied. “Coma victims are fully in command of their senses. Signals can come to the brain, but signals can’t go out. Of course the real explanation is far more complicated, but you can think of it like that.”

“Uh huh,” the daughter said doubtfully. She was sure the doctor was right, but it was so hard to believe when her father never so much as batted an eye. “I can’t believe technology has advanced so far. Today would have been his one hundred and thirty-fifth birthday, you know. With all those failing organs and the cancer we hadn’t even expected him to last to sixty, but now here he is sleeping peacefully and healthily. And all thanks to this incredible invention of yours, doctor.”

She looked in awe at the contraption looming behind her sleeping father. All matte screens and rubber pumps and sterile, shiny stainless steel. Almost two dozen needles and tubes stuck into the old man at various points, each assisting in keeping him alive.

“Now, I have another purpose for this visit,” the daughter continued, facing the doctor. “Your invention has kept my father alive for sixty years. And from the looks of it, it’ll keep him alive for many more to come. You let him have the treatment for free because he was one of the test batch. How much will it cost for me to get hooked up when I kick the bucket?”

The doctor smiled. “For the last ten years I have been juggling patents and contracts, and I can assure you before you will be needing it, my machines will be available at such a low price anyone can afford one.”

The daughter gawked. “How’s that even possible?”

“I’m not looking to make any money off this. I can keep people alive forever with these machines, and the more I can, the happier I am.” The smile grew wider.

***

The room was dark. The only sounds were the subtle noises of the machine. Click, hiss, hum, whir. And the clop, clop, clop of the doctor’s feet on the floor. He walked to the father’s bedside and brushed away a lock of grey hair. To anyone else it would be amazing how the body could be preserved for so long with simple technology, even giving a hundred-and-thirty-five-year-old man his hair back.

The doctor’s hand felt like dry ice. It was as if the father’s skin would burn off and allow the doctor’s claw-like fingers to dig down and rip apart the brain.

But the skin remained intact.

Silently the doctor leaned down and ever so quietly whispered into the father’s ear. “Isn’t it amazing how these humans don’t notice how I never seem to grow older? No, they just see an old man. And an old man is nothing out of the ordinary.”

He stood up and turned. Before he exited the doctor spoke a few more words, this time his voice filled with a cold and malicious glee. “That daughter of yours will be joining you in a few years. Maybe I’ll put you together and leave her vocal cords inside her body. That way you can hear her screams. You are all disgusting creatures, you know that? It’s so fun to play with you.”

Several hours of silent torment passed. One tear slowly rolled down the father’s cheek.

Oh dear God, please let it stop. That’s a prayer.

A Glimpse Into the Secret World

The following story takes place in the world around us. For all around us, hidden from the unobservant eyes of society, there exists a Secret World. Scoff and walk away from your computer believing this is just a fiction, but tonight as you lie in your bed, trying to sleep… Then, you’ll believe every word.

Professor Westel heaved on the crowbar, prying the top off the long, weathered crate lying on the table before him. After a bit of maneuvering the professor succeeded in wrenching away the lid and set it to one side, eagerly peering down at the preserved corpse inside. He wrinkled his nose at the foul smell of formaldehyde, and reached into the box with a gloved hand.

There was nobody around to hear his screams.

***

*BZZZZ* *BZZZZ* *BZZZZ* Fred groaned and blinked sleepily as the phone on his night stand buzzed angrily. The young man finally sat up and swiped at the phone’s screen to accept the call. “Carlton.”

“It’s White. We’ve got a situation the higher ups want us to take care of.”

Fred listened to the rest of her message and then hung up. “Too bad,” he murmured to himself. “I was gonna use that vacation day next week, too…”

***

Three hours later, Fred stood in the wrecked science room of Eastborough University beside Rose White, a tall girl with long silver hair and a shotgun over her shoulder. Fred himself was somewhat stocky and dark-haired, and always felt a bit intimidated around the always-confident and aggressive Rose.

“What do we have here?” Fred asked as he examined the room. Streaks of blood covered the walls, and a rather large pool of it sat on the floor. Furniture lay overturned all around the room, and medical equipment like syringes and scalpels glittered under the single remaining fluorescent light.

“The Orochi Group was tracking a package which they maintain registered above a 5.0 on their Occult Attractor.”

“Sealed, asleep, but not destroyed.”

“Yes. Apparently… Some kind of mix-up. An as-of-yet unidentified party was ordering this thing from an as-of-yet unknown location, and it somehow got mixed up with a cadaver which was on its way here for dissection. Last night the package’s signature spiked to an attraction level of 8.3, and here we are.”

“Good grief. Do we know anything conclusive about this incident?”

Rose carefully stepped around a bit of broken glass on the tile floor and took a closer look at some of the markings on the scattered equipment. “Whatever woke up must be the same size as a cadaver. And it’s inherently corporeal. And… Claws.” She glanced up. “You think it could just be a cranky zombie?”

Fred frowned. “I guess. But a zombie wouldn’t have been able to get out of the room without causing more damage than it did. And that leads to two more questions… One, where’s the zombie? And two… Where’s the victim?”

Both of them froze for a moment, and then quickly stood back to back. Rose whipped around her shotgun, cocking it with a solid click, while Fred brought up a pair of pistols.

Neither of them moved a muscle. The only sound in the room was that of breathing. Light, and quick. Not the dark, heavy air of a wendigo or werewolf.

Suddenly they heard the sound of footsteps coming up the hallway. Each of the battle-ready investigators turned in alarm as the sound grew closer…

“Hey, are you with the police?”

The two of them blinked. Standing before them was a scared-looking man clutching a kitchen knife in his hand. Rose coughed once and stepped forward confidently. “Yeah, we got a call so early in the morning, the sergeant here and I didn’t even have time to get in uniform. You have any clue what went on here, Mr…”

“Professor Westel. This was my classroom. My assistant was here last night preparing for today’s class. I suppose that’s him all over the floor.”

Fred glanced sharply up at the man’s face. Beyond looking scared, he was being very calm about the whole thing. “You seem pretty laid-back for a guy who just found two strangers standing over the remains of your assistant in your classroom.”

The man began to shake a little. “Shock, I suppose. I think I am going to vomit.” He put one hand to his mouth, and the two investigators quickly scurried past him. “Don’t I need to answer questions or something?” He asked between clenched teeth.

“Tell it to the police.”

“But I thought you were the police…?” But when they were gone, the professor’s arms dropped to his sides. He stopped shaking. And a gaping, toothy smile crawled its way across his face. “Anima brats. Tasty.”

===

Fred walked through the stone tile hallway deep underground Brooklyn, New York. He had been walking through the headquarters of the Illuminati for almost fifteen minutes. It was a very large facility.

Finally the investigator entered through a pair of double doors into the First Aid section of the Illuminati’s research lab. “Doctor Barnes!” he called as he approached a lab-coated, wild-haired scientists in the process of applying hydrogen peroxide to the arm of a man holding a crutch.

After a bit of fiddling with a bandage the doctor stood up and chuckled. “I’m no surgeon but that should stop the flesh-devouring virus until we can get you under a zero-point emitter.” He turned to face Fred. “What do you need? I need to get back to fine tuning that quantum brace, but I can call down a nurse… Hey, it’s Fred!”

“Yeah. Good to see you, doc. Say, I think my colleague and I are tracking down some kind of undead creature. Do you have one of those instant protection ward dispensers I can borrow?”

The doctor pondered this. “Sorry, I just sent my last one over to Crowley. Apparently there was some problem up in Kingsmouth. Ever been there? Nice little fishing town. Anyway, if it’s an undead you’re hunting, try this.” Barnes fished around in his pocket until I found a tiny steel cylinder, which he handed to his friend.

“What’s this?” Fred asked as he examined the object.

“A canister of compressed oxygen. It’s super-charged with anima so it should have advanced healing properties. It was designed to be released on the battlefield. The cloud of healing oxygen which would spread would hopefully heal any wounds and rejuvenate the soldier’s lungs. We could never get it to work without healing the enemy, though.”

“How does that help me against whatever I’m hunting?”

The doctor removed a crayon from his pocket and began drawing on a very expensive looking projector screen mounted conveniently on the wall. “An undead is a corpse reanimated by some evil creature. Any creature capable of possessing a corpse only does so because the decaying flesh is easier to manipulate. Which makes little sense when rigor mortis is taken into account, but what have you. Anyway, because the healing in this canister is anima-powered, it doesn’t merely speed up the body’s healing process like our Vitadrinks. It intelligently uses energy to rebuild body tissue.

“So whatever the undead is, it will be unable to keep hold on the body if it… Freshens?”

“That’s the theory.”

“Well then. Thanks, Doc.” Fred left the facility with the new weapon in his pocket, wondering if he would ever get to use a vacation day for an actual vacation. From the way things were looking, probably not.

===

Back at the university, the thing in Professor Westel’s shape was preparing to feed once more. It was in fact a Shade, not some zombie. Rose and Fred would find that out soon enough. But would they find out before it was too late?

(CW15) The Giving Lard

People change, and move on. But love, does not.

Once in a butcher shop in southern Germany there was a Lard which sat in a blue china bowl. Every day a fat little boy would come and visit the butcher shop to discuss politics and philosophy with the Lard.

The Lard loved the boy, and the boy loved the Lard. And the Lard was happy.

One day the young boy came to the Lard with a plate of sausages. “Lard,” he said, “Can you help me find some butter with which to fry my sausages?”

“I cannot give you butter,” said the Lard, “But take some of my lard and fry your sausages with it, and you will be full.”

So the boy took some of the Lard and fried his sausages with it. The boy was full, but the Lard was just a bit weaker from that day on. Whenever the two would discuss politic and philosophy, the lard would reply just a bit more slowly, and his arguments were just a little less coherent.

Soon the boy acquired another chain of sausages. The boy still had no butter, and considered whether or not the Lard might now know where some butter could be found. “Lard,” he said, “Can you help me find some butter with which to fry my sausages?”

The Lard, of course, did not know where to find butter. For who has ever heard of a Lard with knowledge of dairy products? But even though the Lard knew it would suffer, the Lard loved the boy very much. “I cannot give you butter,” said the Lard, “But take some of my lard and fry your sausages with it, and you will be full.”

So once again the boy took some of the Lard and fried his sausages with it. The boy was full, and the Lard was even weaker than before.

The boy soon realized the Lard would give him anything he wanted. Whenever he had a need for cooking grease, the boy would turn to the Lard. The boy loved the Lard, but he loved his stomach more.

Time passed and the fat boy grew into a fat young man. Greedily he approached the lard and asked it a favor without even saying hello. “Lard!” he barked. “Give me some lard so I can slick back my hair.”

The Lard was much weaker than it had once been, but it gave the young man some lard with which to slick back his hair. The young man wordlessly took the lard and left without saying goodbye. The Lard was sad, but it had done something for the young man who had once been the boy, and that took away a little of the sadness. For the Lard had loved the boy.

More time passed and the fat young man grew into a fat father. Again he barged into the butcher shop and stood before the Lard, without deigning to greet his old friend but instead thinking only of himself. “Lard, I need some of your lard to waterproof my boy’s tent with.”

“Take all the lard you need,” said the Lard. It hoped the father would stay and talk, but once he had the lard it was as if he forgot the Lard had even existed. Only a tiny Smear of the lard was left, sitting in its blue china bowl, but it was still happy. For it had done something for the father who had once been a young man, who had once been a boy. And the Smear had loved the boy.

Much more time passed. Once day the door to the long-abandoned building which had once been a butcher shop creaked open, and an old man stepped through. He hobbled over to where the blue china dish and the smear of lard still sat, and looked sadly down.

The Smear could barely think or move now, but as it gazed upon the wrinkled old man in front of it, the Smear recognized who had once been a father, once been a young man, once been a boy. And the Smear had loved the boy.

“Do you want lard for your sausages?” asked the Smear.

“I have no teeth with which to eat them,” answered the old man.

“Do you want lard to slick back your hair with?” asked the Smear.

“I have no hair to put it in,” answered the old man.

“Do you want lard so you can waterproof your boy’s tent?” asked the Smear.

“My boy lives in a house now,” answered the old man.

“Then I do not know how I can help you,” said the Smear sadly.

But the old man reached out one rickety hand and picked up the blue china bowl with the tiny Smear of lard in it. “I need a friend,” said the old man. And for the rest of their days the old man and the Smear discussed politics and philosophy.

When the old man died, the blue china bowl was washed well and buried with him.

The Blue China Bowl was content at last. It could finally rest beside its best friend until the very end of time. For the Lard had loved the boy, and the Blue China Bowl loved the old man.