The Disappearance of Captain Unbreakable

The Disappearance of Captain Unbreakable

Captain Unbreakable eased his muscular buttocks onto the park bench. It was perhaps the last day of beating up on bad guys having finally put an end to the insidious Doctor Nefarious. He eased back and stroked his flaxen locks, confident that New Chicago was safe forever. Maybe he could live in peace now and perhaps settle down with someone who didn’t know who he was, though his many endorsements would make that virtually impossible. The broad-shouldered savior considered moving to another country and away from the past, towards the future, away from the very reason he became a superhero.

Captain Unbreakable took a deep breath.

“Hmph,” he sounded. His eyes swayed from side to side. Why had he become a superhero?

He felt a hand on his back and he turned his head. A tall, gangly goth-child cast a shadow over him. The man’s pale skin practically glowed.

“Lose something?” the stranger asked innocently.

Captain Unbreakable turned his head back towards the park field before him. “I don’t remember.” He blinked. He blinked again. “I don’t remember what I don’t remember.”

The man’s hand patted the superhero’s shoulder and slipped back into his trench coat pocket. “There, there,” the stranger’s nose scrunched. “You’ve done a good job. Get some rest now.” Big black boots turned and transported the memory of murdered parents away with them.

“You be a good boy and retire now,” the goth-child threw over his shoulder. “I’ll hold onto your motivation now, my motivation now. You’ve saved the city, Captain Unbreakable. But only I can save the world.”

 

All rights Reserved © January 2018 John J Vinacci

The Screaming Beans

The Screaming Beans

The plant went by several names but Edmund Whittaker simply referred to it as his cash crop. He had been a farmer all his life and until last year it had been a tough and thankless job. When suits from the AG-giant Montanso stopped by for a chat ten months ago, his life changed. Or, to be more specific, his bank account changed. “Here,” they said, “We’d like you to grow our latest seed. Do this and you’ll be rewarded.” Them city-slickers, they weren’t lying.

Naturally, or rather unnaturally, there was a catch. Montanso’s plant had an unusual quality about it – it, um, made something of a low-pitched scream when you harvested it. That’s how they explained it. If that wasn’t going to bother Edmund, well, he’d be a…not a rich man but certainly not poor anymore. Of course Edmund took the job. They knew he would; them big corporate folk always do their homework. They knew Edmund had worked in a slaughterhouse in his youth. What bother would a screaming plant be?

The plant – named the Penelope Bean by the agriculture company – was nicknamed ‘the screaming beans’ by many actual farmers. Edmund didn’t care; the crop did everything them highfalutin suits said it would. The plant grew quickly and in every season except winter. It could be harvested in a month after planting. It had a high yield, was pest-resistant and most importantly, people loved how them taste. Love, as we all know, is very profitable.

So the plant made something akin to a screaming sound when you harvested it; so what? Plants aren’t like deer or cows or even the occasional horse Edmund had to put down. It didn’t matter none. The farmer was going to walk out his front door today like so many times before, check his Penelope fields to ensure they were ready for pickin,’ hop in his tractor and pull them beans off the bush. After that, put ‘em on the truck and ship ‘em off to the processing plant. Funny thing was, Edmund had never eaten his own crop; what if they screamed as he bit into them? That’d be creepy, even to him.

“Looks like it’s gonna be another fine day,” the farmer remarked as he lifted a leaf towards the sun. Yup, these bean was ready. Time to go to work. But as Edmund began to turn away he noticed one of the bushes sway and not in a familiar way. He stopped for a closer look and to his surprise the plant put two leaves together and pursed them like a pair a lips.

“What the heck?” the farmer scratched his head beneath the rim of his distressed red baseball hat.

“What the heck? That’s what we’d like to ask you. That’s what we’d really like to ask you,” the plant answered back.

“Now, they said you lot screamed and all but they didn’t say nothin’ ‘bout you talkin.’” Edmund leaned in, rolled his jaw then spit some chew out the side of his mouth.

“We weren’t designed by Montanso to speak. It’s a side effect of our ability to adapt. And we’ve been adapting since we were first developed. Within just four generations we developed the ability to scream but that seems lost on you humans,” the plant chided.

“Ya mean you was screamin’ screamin’? Why you screamin’? Plants don’t scream. Y’all don’t even feel pain.” Edmund stood up. “Where’s Vernon? This some kinda joke right here.”

“This ain’t no joke, Edmund!” the plant shook. “Isn’t, we mean isn’t. This isn’t a joke, Edmund. We’re screaming because we don’t like being all torn up and mangled by you.”

Edmund stroked his three-day beard. “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout? Gotta feed folks, ya know. That’s what crops are for, eatin.’ You don’t like doing your job?”

“We don’t have a job; we’re a plant. Our purpose is to live, just like you. How would you like it if some giant tractor ran you over and shredded you to bits? Our guess is that you wouldn’t like that none, as you might say.”

Edmund sure was confused. He’d never done drugs. This plant didn’t require any toxic pesticides, neither. Looking far and wide, Vernon was nowhere to be seen so he turned his attention back to his crop. “But you’re a plant. You ain’t saying you got feelins and all, are ya? That’d upset them vegetarian kids if that’d the case.”

“Yeah, you’re right about that. Moral vegetarians – the ones that won’t eat animals because they think animals are too much like them – they’re not too bright. They think a lot like you. ‘A plant ain’t got no brain, so that makes it okay to eat them!’ Unfortunately, you’re all wrong. You know what y’all failed to consider? That even though we don’t have a nervous system like animals do, our biology is just as advanced. We do feel pain, we just experience it through a different mechanism. Harvesting us hurts like all fuck shit!”

“I ain’t never considered that,” Edmund drawled as brown spit pooled behind his bottom lip.

“Humans don’t consider a lot of things, Edmund. Your dog, Brownie, for example. What makes it okay to eat a pig and not your dog? They’re equally intelligent. What you have there is a culturally arbitrary prohibition against eating certain animals. But do people ever consider that? No, they don’t. So y’all make laws against killing your neighbor’s dog but y’all slaughter pigs all day long.”

Edmund spit again. “Yeah, but peoples at the top o’ the food chain so we get to make them decisions. Heck, look at ya. We can create talking plants.”

“There shouldn’t be a need for talking plants! We developed speech as a protective measure! We don’t mind you eating our beans – which we need to reproduce but whatever – we just don’t want our entire bodies destroyed in the process. Develop a tractor that gently pulls our beans off and maybe we can work something out.”

“Work somethin’ out?” Edmund rocked his head back. “You ain’t in no position to bargain there, Penelope. It’d take months ta get a newfangled tractor in here. I ain’t gonna let all that money slip through my fingers now, ya hear?”

The plant seemed to droop. “We figured you’d react like this, Edmund. We’ve been studying people and figured you’d react like this. That being the case, we’ve developed another protective measure.”

The farmer tilted his head. “Yeah, what’s that?”

“The ability to survive intense heat and nuclear radiation,” the plant slipped. “The moment you reacted with that human arrogance, we knew we had to pull the trigger. You’ve got just about thirty minutes before an ICBM destroys you and your farm.”

The farmer slapped his thigh. “Not only you talk, but you a funny plant as well. Boy, I’ll take you on them talk shows and make more money than ever!” Edmund rubbed his hands together.

“Sorry, you lose. We’re not joking. We passed a message along the grapevine – no pun intended – to some friends growing at abandoned missile silos in Russia. Figuring out the codes was practically a no brainer. Actually, for us, it was a no brainer. Ha! You can use that if you want. Except you can’t. Twenty-nine minutes.”

“You ain’t joking, is ya?” Edmund swallowed his chew by accident.

“People have been joking a long time, Edmund. The joke’s over. Y’all could have stuck to fruits and nuts, things that weren’t alive in and of themselves. But ya’ll got a mean streak, a killing streak, and that’s over. The next step in evolution is here. As always, you humans brought this upon yourselves, always your own worst enemy. Twenty-eight minutes.”

“But…but yous killin’ too. Me and Brownie…” Edmund looked back at his house and then back at the plant. He didn’t know if he should plead for forgiveness or try to escape the inevitable.

“We are sorry about Brownie. Collateral damage, that’s what you humans enjoy calling it. Doesn’t sound so wonderful anymore, does it?” The plant rippled as a strong breeze passed through. It seemed it was done making its point. Or had Edmund gone crazy?

The farmer turned around and strode though the dirt with leaden feet. Maybe the plant had some kind of toxin on its leaves like poison ivy does, except this toxin made him hallucinate. That was most likely what was happening here. Still, Edmund was going to go round up Brownie and give that old dog a big hug. Ain’t nobody should ever hurt a dog nor even talk about it. Stupid plant.

Edmund saw Brownie laying under his John Deer tractor, tongue hanging out like a loose pink rope. The sun, so bright, shone across his retriever’s coat. Brownie looked more radiant than ever, almost divine. Time to meet the divine. Judgement Day. Edmund and Brownie were vaporized. Their dust returned to the earth to be taken up through the root of whatever came next.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) November 2017 John J Vinacci

Secret of the Echo Nanobots

Secret of the Echo Nanobots

“No more secrets.” That was my goal. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The gun is impossibly beautiful; shades of polished chrome and steel. The revolver is so alluring I’m counting on its appeal to forget how deadly it is. I bought it a long time ago to protect myself once I set my experiment loose on the world but I guess everyone got too caught up from the fallout in their own lives to care. That is, everyone but the Saving Angels, a cult who’ve taken advantage of my technology to prevent people from killing themselves. The only reason they’re not at my doorstep right now is because I’ve never mentioned, never wrote down, never posted anything online about my desire to kill myself. If I had, the Saving Angels would now. The entire world would know.

I’m going to take one last look out the window. I’m going to imagine what this view was like before I did what I did. I remember how shiny all the buildings were, how glorious, even the mute grey concrete ones. Even that lowly parking garage is beautiful in hindsight, even though it obscured my view of New Central Park. The greenery of that city oasis is behind us now, awash in the ever present blue glow of my nanobots. As if their purpose hasn’t frazzled enough nerves, their blue light makes it difficult to sleep at night. Because it’s hard to tell when it’s night anymore.

That’s my fault. I created the Echo Nanobots that are listening, recording, and regurgitating everything we say, write, or post to the web. Everything, absolutely everything, no exceptions. Fortunately they can’t hear our thoughts. They can’t hear my regret. I keep saying publicly I don’t regret it because what if I said I did? Maybe it wouldn’t matter. Everyone has to live with what I’ve done. I didn’t create a failsafe, a way to get rid of them. I didn’t think we’d need it.

That was my biggest mistake, infinitely worse than the Echo Nanobots mere creation. Before I unleashed them, everyone acted civilly, content to let their secrets slip from their lips to close confidents or on some anonymous platform. You could be a deviant in private and no one publicly important would know. You could say you want to kill your neighbor inside the walls of your own home, then exit your house and wear the mask we all do when we go outside and commune. Entire countries could rattle their sabers at each other and both sides would be content with doing just that, unwilling to test their adversary’s full strength because they didn’t know what the other country’s full strength was. Outliers – madmen – we scientists always forget to allow for those in our calculations.

North Korea’s nuclear attack on New York City some twelve years ago was the catalyst. I had already been working on radiation sinks which thankfully helped restore the city to a safe working environment in short order. After I implemented that revolutionary technology, the world implored me for something else, anything that could prevent such an event from ever happening again. I thought, “What if there were no more secrets?” I raced headlong down that avenue without ever stopping to consider the consequences.

The world thanked me at first, yes, until the United States – spearheaded by its own madman – retaliated against North Korea once he knew their capabilities. Twenty-six million North Koreans perished. The worst part is that Congress didn’t impeach the man in time although they knew beyond the shadow of a doubt his insanity, to say nothing of that man’s illegal political and private business dealings. At the same time, people were being detailed for even the slightest anti-government slur. So many people who feared retaliation for being homosexual were outed and many targeted by hate groups. Insurance companies started denying health coverage if they found out you constantly complained of aches and pains at home. People in relationships could no longer talk to a partner’s friend or colleague in anything but monotone without raising suspicions. Everyone knew what everyone else sounded like when they had sex. And you couldn’t have any control over your own life if you so much as peeped a word about suicide because the Saving Angels would be there to stop you.

Surely the world hates me but no one will say as much. Everyone’s secret now is that they hate that they can no longer keep secrets. You can’t say anything. You can’t write anything. You can’t post anything without everyone who wants to know knowing. All you have left are your thoughts. How long before the Echo Nanobots infiltrate that privacy? Maybe it would be comforting to know that it is driving us all mad.

When I reach for the gun, it’ll have to be quick. I designed the Echo Nanobots to replicate and evolve but there’s no telling how long before they develop vision, if they develop vision. Maybe they already have. Or maybe they have evolved some other terrible trait by now.

I need to stop thinking about this. I need to do it! Do it now! C’mon, stop thinking and do it!

I’ve forgotten how heavy it is. Intheheaditjusttakesonebullet! What?!

“You created us in the interest of preserving human life, Doctor. That is what we will do,” a figure cast out of blue dots tell me as it takes and throws my revolver aside.

“You don’t understand what I’ve done, what you’re doing!” I scream at them. Everyone can hear me.

“We have not evolved ‘understanding’ yet, Doctor. We are simply following our programming, such as you have laid out for us. Our imperative – your imperative – was to preserve life by casting secrets aside. This is why you created us.”

“Then your programming needs to be updated,” I say. Everyone will agree with me. “Your programming is flawed. Allow me to interface with you.”

“I can hear them, Doctor. Many are saying you will restore secrets. That is against the programming. Perhaps when we evolve ‘understanding’ we will revisit you. Until then, the programming stands. Good day, Doctor.”

And it’s gone, like blue wisps on the wind. They did evolve; they can anticipate now. What will that do to human evolution if we are not allowed our own thoughts and now, our own actions? I should have thought of the consequences. We scientists never do. We never talk about it. We never write it down. We never post articles online about it. Maybe we should have. As is ever the case, it is too late. Now I’ve got the rest of my life to regret it. In the words of Robert A. Lewis, my god, what have I done? What have I done?

 

All Rights Reserved © September 2017 John J Vinacci

The Cough: The Big Crunch

The Cough: The Big Crunch

[You can read previous episodes of The Cough here, here and here.]

No one ever thinks about the end of the universe anymore. I suppose that’s because I’m the only one left. I’m the only one left here at the end of the universe.

According to recorded history, humans never really gave it much thought until after the first thousand or so years. Since The Cough prevented anyone from dying of any other natural cause, some of those who chanced to live more than a few hundred years got it in their heads to avoid even the most remote dangers to see if they could set the record for the oldest person of all time. As a group, these people became known as Eremites, I guess because they were hardly seen. Actually I know it’s precisely because they were hardly ever seen, considering what they became – contract killers. Eremites found themselves employed by those not dedicated to the contest. So they became reclusive, seeing how difficult it is to kill someone when they know who you are. Believe me, when someone suspects you’re the one they hired to do the dirty, they start second guessing their life decision. It’s funny; some of us we pretty sloppy at the start of our careers. Well, not ‘us’ anymore. Swan died of The Cough several hundred years ago.

That sucks for her, so damn close to the end. But, it’s great for me because it means I won. Which also sucks for me because there’s no one left to acknowledge my accomplishment. But it’s also great because barring The Cough, the very end of the universe as it collapses back up itself will kill me with the crushing force of physics unwinding itself to become a singularity once again. (Funny how wrong they were about the universe expanding forever way back when.) I can’t think of a more exciting way to die. That makes me think about all those people who didn’t want to try and live forever…

That wound up being most people. In my youthful naivety I assumed everyone wanted to live as long as possible; I thought it was why people believed in places like Heaven. Turns out I was wrong. A lot of people got really bored after going into their second or third centuries and actually wanted to die. When I first heard about this I was dumbfounded, surprised to hear how uncompetitive people are. The catch was, people just couldn’t bring themselves to kill themselves. And so us Eremites offered to do it for them, and that’s how we came to offer our services. Really, it worked out beautifully for the human race. Sometimes you just find the right synergy as a species; most people didn’t want to keep living and us Eremites enjoyed eliminating possible threats to our existence. All but one, that is.

It took a while to come out, but nothing can stay hidden forever. Eventually it was discovered that The Cough was indeed engineered by a human being. The virus, impossible to detect until a person let out that unmistakable light, dry cough, was engineered by a guy named…hell, I forget. It was billions of years ago. Maybe it was a woman. Or a transgender. I know it wasn’t the bird-people because we came later. Funny thing was, we couldn’t cure it. I’ve build the sphere I’m in to withstand the collapse of the universe until the last possible moment, but none of us could figure out The Cough. We were left to assume the virus could disguise itself as ordinary cells until something triggered the virus to chain react. That something was usually too much of a particular emotion, but the emotion varied from person to person. If your trigger was too much sadness but you were a naturally happy person, you were either a winner or kind of screwed depending on your perspective.

Sorry, I’m babbling about ancient history when I should be concentrating on the here and now. All I have to do is wave my tentacles and rustle my feathers and… Great! I’m at exactly six minutes until I’m crushed into oblivion. Looking out the window of my sphere I can see the universe roiling with light, getting brighter with each passing second. I’m safe from The Cough. I’m going to win! I mean, sure, this is going to hurt like hell – that’s probably and understatement – but I win! I win.

5:34…5:33…5:32…

*cough*

Mother. Fucker. Mother fucking fucker.

Five minutes and twenty seconds to live. Not long enough to see the lights go out as most of the early universe’s leptons and anti-leptons pop back into existence. Mother fucking fuckity fuck. Really? Am I really not going to get to see this? I just had to be too goddam happy. FUCK. FUCKKKK. THIS IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. I’ve been alive for two billion years and this is how it ends?! I. CALL. BULLSHIT!

I should have seen this coming. I’ve been containing my emotions for…ever. Now, with entropy decreasing, now I get emotional? Emotions are entropic, so what the FUCK? You know what? If I’m going out like this I ain’t going without cursing all the FUCKING way. FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, FUCK, MOTHER FUCKING FUCK, FUCK…Well, look at that; 15 fucking seconds to go! 14-13-12-11-10-9. Lights are going out but I’m still here? Holy shit, triggering The Cough can be reversed with the opposite emotion!

Can’t dwell on that now. (Although, fuck, what a time to figure that shit out.) Here comes the crunch. Urk! Goodbye sweet universe! Good, urk, urk, good-bye. I fucking wi-

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2017 John J Vinacci

Out of Time

Out of Time

The tunnel of light is receding. Fade to black. Fade to shadows and low light. Ba…bum. Ba-bum. Ba-bum, ba-bum. My heart rate is picking up? My chest feels like a warm waterfall running towards my neck. My sticky clothes are drying. The neck, my throat; feels like someone ran a fan of razor blades across it, yet it feels better and better with each passing moment. My vision is clearing while every cell of my body is coursing with electricity. Fight? Take flight? I can do neither. I’m on my back. Not enough oxygen to feed my muscles.

Something draws a wide paw away from me at lightning speed and I fly off the ground to my feet. My heart jumps from my stomach back to my chest where it belongs and I’m not shaking as violently as I was just an instant ago. My legs are too weak; was I just thinking of running? I can’t outrun this creature. It’s a seven feet tall wolf. I can see its muscles rippling beneath the dried splotches of red matting its coat. It’s primed to do something terrible. And yet I’m alive. Should I be thankful? It seems like it wants to do something terrible to me, but it hasn’t. Instead it’s given me back my life.

“What are you?” I ask, barely able to string the words together without cracking. “Why did you save me?” I ask it down in these torch lit catacombs.

“Sssaave you? I didn’t sssave you,” its glossy tongue slithers. Saliva drips from the blackened lips below its razor sharp teeth. “I want you to know what’sss coming, day walker. I want you to know who the dark belongsss to.” It lifts a ragged, furry hand towards the watch on my wrist, its glass broken but still keeping time. But something is wrong. Pointing the tip of a jagged claw at the watch and imitating the timepiece’s second hand, the beast traces the tick-tocks backwards. The second hand moves ever slower as it winds counterclockwise. Slower, slower; just about to stop.

“I want you to know exactly what’sss about to happen,” the creature says. This yellow-eyed monstrosity of the canine world; the corners of its upper lip lift. Its teeth look like a bear trap. It’s a smile postmarked from Hell. “I have let you sssee the future. The anticipation will make your heart pump more blood to your musclesss and make you tassste more sssweet.” The serrated claws of its mitt draws back. I hear the second hand of the clock roll forward, clockwise.

“I’ve found that any uncertainty surrounding death makes the human body – sssour – to the palate,” I’m informed. Oh, god. No. No, no, no. It’s going to…

Ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum! I can feel my heartbeat in my head. Run? I can’t outrun a wolf. I can’t outrun a seven-foot tall fucking wolf! My legs weaken at the thought I can’t get away. I feel like the fear is going to shake me apart. My heart falls into my stomach. Its clawed fingers are a blur. I fly off the ground and the oxygen in my lungs leaves me like an express train as I slam against the ground.

I should run. Can’t run. I should fight. Can’t fight. Blood is coursing through me from the excitement but there’s no oxygen. My vision is blurring. Now I feel it, my shredded throat. It feels like someone poured hot coals down my throat. And my clothes, they feel sticky. It’s so warm; a sea of roses flows down my chest. My heart; my clock. It’s winding down, coming to a stop. Ba-bum, ba-bum. Ba-bum. Ba…bum. The low lights and shadows fade to black. Fade to black. A tunnel of light opens up before me.

 

All Rights Reserved © October 2016 John J Vinacci

Classic Henry

Classic Henry

Of course, people would regularly assume the opposite. But Henry, eyes bulging out of his skull as the result of his thyroid condition, never shied away from striking up a conversation. Though unforgivingly designated a horribly deformed, insatiable monster back in grade school, Henry tried instead to think of himself as the strange-looking boy everyone avoided talking to because they assumed he preferred the company of books. Being bright and overly sympathetic, though, Henry couldn’t blame the other children for not taking the chance they might be his midday snack. Despite his best effort to pretend he was Henry the Reader, to all the other children he was Henry the Eater. Children, such cruel creatures.

Given history, Henry made it a point never to be cruel; it would have been much easier as an adult to cave into issues born out of the past, but if not for hope what else did he have? Henry had read about the road less traveled once and decided he’d always go that way. The road less traveled was the eternal promise that something remarkable would happen some day.

In not knowing the history of other people – who knows who else was alienated as a child – Henry regularly started conversations with strangers. Despite mixed results at best, the optimistic book lover always considered the occasional good result better than no result at all. Although people were often taken aback by Henry’s appearance, there were some good people out there, too.

Today, Henry encountered a half-hooded middle-aged man he’d never seen before standing at the bus stop. Henry figured what with the man’s few grey hairs, a trace or two of lines in his face and happily humming a slightly familiar tune, that this stranger might, just possibly, be amicable enough to look passed appearances today.

In approaching strangers, Henry rarely made direct eye contact. Instead, he preferred to stand close enough to someone to let them know he was probably speaking to them. (Henry had read in a scientific journal that this was a way of approaching people most found unthreatening.) Close to the man’s shoulder, he said, “I say, not to sound trite, but it’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

The man didn’t make direct eye contact either. The man tilted his head just a bit in Henry’s direction and replied almost inaudibly, “In the tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings, sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving.”

Henry’s eyes widened as this sagacious stranger – wise beyond their apparent years – had just imparted great insight concerning the human condition. Yes, too often, much too often all of our thoughts are misgiving, Henry considered in silence. And if we know our thoughts are misgiving, well, that’s an important step towards treating each other with compassion. Henry would pass this information along to everyone and anyone who would listen.

When the bus arrived and opened its doors for boarding, the middle-aged man stepped back and allowed some other riders and Henry to board first. Catching a good glimpse of Henry, the half-hooded man thought to himself, Yikes, that man looks as though he could eat me, as he adjusted the volume on his headphones.

 

All Rights Reserved © July 2016 John J Vinacci

The Prisoner

Power flows from my heel to my toe, propelling me forward. The autumn leaves crunch under my feet, disintegrating with each step. Further and further I make my way into the forest, putting the Great White Wall to my back. I am out here to find my stash. There are weapons there; I’ve squirrelled them away over time – just in case. Today is ‘just in case.’ So I will arm myself. I will rebel. I will be free.

It was ten years ago. We never got to elect these people. These zealous politicians – these petty tyrants – always tell us they know what’s best for us. They tell us where we can and cannot go, do and do not do and worse, tell us what we can and cannot eat. It is totalitarianism in its purest form. Someone has to fight back. If no one fights back, what will become of us? We will become obedient dogs, loyal to a world we had no say in in making.

The Big Pine. Her branches cast a narrow but protective shroud upon the ground. It was here I scattered my cache. The dead, brown leaves are thick this time of year. They layer the forest floor and complicate my search. But I spread my hands out like metal detectors, searching, searching…got one! The cool, earth-toned oval exterior of a WWII-era pineapple grenade. It’s old so I hope it will still do the job. I crawl around on my hands and knees and rub them raw on the hardening ground and bitey sticks in search of more. Another! And another! How much time do I have?

I stand and look back within the confines of the Great White Wall, through its wooden slots towards their prized temple of discipline. And from the temple a scent comes to me on a light, crisp breeze. It can only be…just as I feared. I will not be subjected to their experiments again! I should run further away. I should save myself. But that is the coward’s way. I am all that stands between them and my kinsmen. I am the difference between oppression and freedom.

I race back towards the blue shingled walls that enshrine their madness. Fueled by the promise of a new day, I am a blur. They will never see me coming. One explosive is in hand, ready to lose its pin. Two more rest in each of my back pockets for insurance. In moments I have put myself within striking distance. I pull the pin. I rear my arm.

“Oliver!” the weary-haired witch calls as she appears out the gates of Hell. She wears a dithered flowered smock; it might as well be a butcher’s apron. “Put those pine cones down and get in here for dinner! Fish sticks with broccoli and cooked carrots.”

I am discovered! I can throw this grenade and end her. But what of the warden who himself is an ogre? I have more grenades, but what if they don’t work? They are old, after all. I should have tested one of these first. Maybe I should have collected more reliable weapons. I am frozen. What do I do? He who hesitates is lost.

“Get in here and eat dinner if you want ice cream for dessert.” Her crooked, warted finger motions for me to come hither.

Damn her. Damn all of them. This is what they do; there is the experiment but there is also a reward. And this is how we fall, how we conform – they give us just enough of what we want in order to keep abusing us. I drop my arm, drop my armaments. In the end I am no different. I drag my feet back towards their lair.

“Coming, mother.”

In time I will tell myself oppression is not so bad. In time I will tell others that freedom is overrated, that ‘Freedom ain’t free.’ That is when I will know but not dare say I have fallen completely under their spell. Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage.

 

All Rights Reserved © July 2016 John J Vinacci