There is no death
In the city of the Kings
“Bare Trees Cry & The Moon Doth Wane”
Bare trees cry and the moon doth wane
Her heart a whispering trail
Leading the lonely into the black night
On secrets that none may tell
The night owl calls, the lone wolf listens
A howl buried in his throat
The great mistress calls down from the sky
While he shakes his heavy coat
Her red feathers rustle in the night breeze
As she rests on dead branches above
To the forest her call is but a syllable
But to him it’s every confession of love
She says “fly with me tonight my warrior soul”
Her eyes read his nocturnal prayer
“Run with me across the hills my queen
And together we’ll be everywhere”
‘Tis sometimes true creatures of the world
Soar and ride wild with the wind
But all of us love and dream of the day
When we can be as one again
And if you listen to the night when she is at rest
In the quiet sleep while others are frail
Bare trees cry and the moon doth wane
Her heart a whispering trail
© Paul D. Aronson. All Rights Reserved.
When I came out of the forest clearing into the morning sun, the first thing I noticed was the quiet and absence of people. An RV was parked by a camping spot, but I didn’t see anyone about. Another vehicle, one they used to call a ute, sat alongside the dirt road that led away from the campsites back to the main road and civilization. To break the silence, I shouted a greeting and was answered by the stillness of the day. I thought I heard the sound of birds in the distance somewhere, but I wondered if that was just my imagination, wishing for some other sound besides my own breathing.
My stomach growled. It had been awhile since I’d eaten.I had run into the woods days ago. I still don’t know why. One minute there was a man talking to me, and then he started choking. I got scared and ran. I didn’t want to be blamed for whatever was happening to him. Whatever his problem was, it seemed to be contagious, because others I slipped past on my way to escape, were also choking, their faces pale and sickly. But now I didn’t see anyone, sick or otherwise. Just the RV in front of me, and common sense told me that where there’s a campsite, there’s generally food. I approached the vehicle cautiously, thinking any minute someone would come out and tell me to get lost. But no one did. And by the time I reached the side, I realized no one was there. The RV had been left abandoned.
The door was left open, and as I scrambled up the steps to go inside, I heard something. Voices. I hesitated, suddenly overcome with fear. I listened closely to hear the conversation. It was one-sided, a single desperate voice saying something about an airborne plague affecting the population. I went deeper into the camper in search of the voice’s source, and as I came into a small kitchen area, I found it. A small black and white TV, mounted under a cabinet. Still powered, the image that crackled and flickered was a man in a stained suit looking like he was close to death himself.
“I don’t think there is an antidote,” he was telling the camera. “If there is, only government officials have it, if in fact they survived the outbreak.” He coughed, and even in black and white I could see he was bringing up blood. “I don’t know if anybody is left, but if someone is out there, I’m at the Channel Ten Studios in Melbourne. Don’t come for me. Everyone here is beyond help. Head for the bush. Maybe the plague can’t survive it out there either.” He looked about ready to cry. “Listen. No one is coming. The British Isles are infected. America suffers the same fate. The plague is highly contagious and passes from person to person. Get out of the cities, flee the towns. Get as far away as you can.” He sighed heavily. “Maybe the plague will lose strength and die out eventually. Until then, stay away from other people.Families, do not stay together! It is certain death. Shit,the cadgers finally did it. Thanks a lot, Mr. Prime Minister.”
I continued to stare at the TV. The man was just rambling now, verbally blasting government and politics for the deadly plague that seemed to have infected the world. But I felt fine. Why hadn’t I been affected? Was it because I had fled to the forest when I saw people getting sick? My leg began itching and for a brief moment I panicked, thinking the plague was upon me as well. I scratched my leg and prayed it was just that I hadn’t had a bath in a few days. I really needed to wash and get me some brekkie.
I left the TV with its black and white newsreader no longer blaming the Australian government, but the aborigines and New Zealand. I wandered through the RV looking for something to eat. There was a small refrigerator, but I couldn’t get it open. The owners had put a lock on it, maybe to keep intruders like me out of their grub.
Under a bed toward the rear of the camper, I found an opened box of bickies. They were dry, but biscuits are biscuits. I ate them quick, just glad to have something to eat. Finishing off the box, I went outside to catch some air and decide what to do next. There was a creek several yards from the RV and I headed for it. The water was sparkling and clear. I didn’t care if it was infected, it still looked cleaner than I felt. I stepped halfway into the creek and it felt so good around my legs that I sat right down in the middle,and began to splash the water over my head. The water was cool, and I found myself shouting for joy, it felt so refreshing. I didn’t care if anyone heard me. I’d already come to the conclusion I was the only living soul in the vicinity.
After my creek bath, I decided to head back to the RV as it looked like it might rain. The camper would provide good shelter. The newsreader was still at it, except now he had gotten personal. Racked by guilt and the knowledge that he was going to die soon, he was apologizing to everybody he had ever known. “I was a bad husband, I know I was,” he was saying.
Why is it when a man gets to the end of his life he finally wakes up to all the horrible things he’s done? If he would have tried to live right the first time we probably wouldn’t even have this plague. I can only imagine that the disease was not only born of pathogens but greed as well.
The man had stopped his apologies and was reading from something on his desk. “This just in from Gippsland..” He looked up and rolled his eyes. “Yeah right, like there’s anything left in Gippsland.” He laughed under his breath and I realized he was starting to lose it. Any minute now he would be a babbling idiot.
I decided I would lie down and take a nap. Despite his going mad, the man’s voice soothed me somehow, and so I just lay there on the floor, curled up in a ball, and went to sleep with the sound of his quiet madness in my ear. A short time later, I awoke to the sound of screaming. Startled out of my sleep, I yelped in surprise, before realizing it was just the yob on the TV again.
“You bastards!” he screamed. “You really did it this time, didn’t you?! Hey, you doing anything this weekend, let’s make a plague. Oh yeah, make sure it’s passed from person to person. And let’s make it so bad victims tear their own flesh off like mad dogs!”
I have to admit he was acting a bit rabid at this point. I found myself wishing someone would step in and put a bullet to his head. Anything to end his madness and misery. He let out a loud mad laugh and then lapsed into a sigh of silence. When he finally looked back up into the camera, he seemed calmer.
“You know what’s funny? They named this thing, Morgan’s Plague, after the notoriously brutal bushwhacker Mad Dog Morgan. But get this is, here’s the funny part. It doesn’t even affect dogs.” He laughed. “After all our superiority, all the advances in technology, all the brilliant world thinkers, our own pets outlive us.”
I shook my head sadly. After all, he was right, the world had brought this on itself. Mankind had forgotten the simple things, and strived to be its own God. I wanted to feel some great sympathy for this man and his world, but all I could offer was a small whimper. And as I brought my hind leg up to scratch behind my ear, the TV went out, its internal battery finally running out of juice.
Story by Paul D Aronson. First draft 2008. Final draft. 2016. All Rights Reserved.
The Aliens Have Landed
The night the aliens landed I was roused from my sleep by a loud knock on my door. Coming out of a peaceful dream, I was plunged into chaos and confusion. The pounding was urgent, rapid, and I knew if I didn’t answer the summons my door might just get kicked in by whoever had come to visit at such a late hour. So I jumped out of bed, glancing first at my beloved Marta to make sure I didn’t wake her beautiful slumbering form, slipped into a robe, and went downstairs to get the door.
Two agents stood on the porch. I knew they were from the agency because they looked near identical: hair combed the same way and of the same length, identical eye color and cheekbones, build and clothing, even down to the way they both stood as if on inspection drill.
“Lt. Keck?” one of them asked.
“Yes, I’m Keck.”
“Your presence is requested at Zero Hour.”
That’s all he had to say. Zero Hour, unknown to the public, was a secret military base whose express purpose was to contain, interrogate, and possibly house alien life forms. Extraterrestrials, if you prefer, who may one day be captured or found. So far none had. A summons to Zero Hour could only mean one thing. We found something from outer space.
The drive to the base didn’t take long, but it did afford me a little time to ponder on what may have happened. Perhaps a ship had crashed in a sparsely populated area and been secured before anyone noticed anything strange. Or maybe our government had had an alien held captive for some time, and had been shuttling it from base to base for matters of national security.
Either way, my presence had been requested I assume because of my previous experience in decoding the satellite signals we had picked up two years ago from deep space; signals that had told us the aliens were on the way and soon to be among us. My other investigative experiences had made me the official standby translator and interrogator, if such a thing were ever needed. Looks like it was…
If the two agents had been told not to tell me anything, they did their job well, for they were silent the whole trip. My change from robe to agency uniform had apparently silenced them as well, for I barely heard them breathing. That was okay with me, as it gave me time to think and plan out in my head what questions to ask an extraterrestrial. I had mulled on these things since adulthood, planning out the perfect line of questioning, but now that the time of seeing an alien face to face was here, my mind suddenly went into confusion instead of conversation.
Of course this happened to me with Marta as well. Especially whenever she asked exactly what kind of work I did for the government. She knew better than to ask. She knew I couldn’t tell her, but maybe she kept hoping she would catch me off guard one day and learn everything our nation’s leaders were trying desperately to hide.
Zero Hour doesn’t look much like a secret facility. In fact, it almost looks like an old shack surrounded by a fence. You could almost imagine that if you opened the door and peered inside you would see someone sitting on a bucket and fishing through the ice. The fence itself was only four feet high with an unlocked gate to walk through. No guards patrolled the fence or even the immediate area. However, if you did manage to reach the door and attempt to open it, you would soon realize nothing could open it. At least not from the outside. And though it looked like a simple wood shack, it was actually titanium steel under the disguise.
The agents dropped me at the gate and I got out. They didn’t say a word and I didn’t thank them for the ride. I went through the gate and approached the door. I stood there a few moments, allowing the cleverly hidden retina scan to make sure I belonged there, and then the door opened. No one stood in the doorway, and no one sat inside fishing either. Instead, I stepped directly over the threshold and into an elevator that took me a mile under the shack and into the Zero Hour facility.
When the elevator door opened two armed guards met me. “Please follow me, Lt. Keck,” one of them said, while the other remained at the elevator. I glanced back and saw he was inspecting it, possibly to make sure I didn’t bring anyone else down with me. The guard led me down a thin white corridor toward a locked door at the end. A scanner was mounted beside the door that scanned my fingerprints, and then my eyes, before gliding silently open. The guard didn’t follow me through. Instead I was met by two more agents, those of an obviously higher rank than myself.
“Lt. Keck,” said one of them, and nodded. “We are glad you are here. Out of the entire agency, it is told you have the most persuasive and relaxing demeanor. We are afraid everyone here has bad interrogation skills.”
“Who are you interrogating?”
“An alien,” he replied matter-of-factly.
“Where did he come from?”
“The creature won’t tell us.”
“Can he understand you? Is his language understandable?”
“Yes his speech is somewhat similar, though a few words don’t match ours. We think maybe he learned it from our satellite broadcasts.”
“That is possible. I’ve always believed if an alien could communicate or be taught our language, it would be from radio signals or broadcasts he picked up on.”
“Perhaps. But we need you to get him to talk. National security is very concerned.”
“Of course Admiral,” I replied, noticing all the badges on his uniform.
“Walk with me,” he said, as he started down a hallway that ended with two heavy steel doors. “What concerns us greatly is this, Lt. We found his downed craft in a field outside the security perimeter, as if he had been aiming to locate this facility all along. Unfortunately, he had managed to leave his craft and wander into a rural area. We don’t think many citizens saw him, but I believe it’s possible if the news gets out about this extraterrestrial, it will be all over. We have dispatched agents to the area to try and convince citizens it was one of ours, and now we need you to find out why he is here. And more importantly, if he is alone, or are more of his kind coming.”
“Do you expect more of them?”
“It is possible. Especially if they realize we have one of them in custody. Just find out everything you can.” He stopped in front of the double doors. “Listen, we are counting on you and your patriotism. I have read your file, and not only are you an excellent agent, you also love this country, indeed the whole planet. Help us preserve its security.”
“Yes sir, I will.”
He rapped the metal door with his fist and it opened. On the other side were four more armed guards, and behind them a long table with two chairs on opposite sides. In one of the chairs sat the alien. At first glance I didn’t know what to make of his hairless appearance. I was trying to take everything in – what had happened and what was expected of me, and now this bizarre creature sitting at the table.
When I moved past the guards and sat down across from him, he seemed to study me in with a slight cocking of his head. It was hard to say because his whole face seemed reflective, like mirrored glass. There were no discernable facial features, except mine were mirrored in his silent visage. I could see no noticeable orifices that indicated he could hear, see, or even speak. His skin was white, almost like mine, except the texture seemed more like rubber than flesh. Perhaps this was why he was uninjured in the crash.
I lay my hands flat on the table to show I had no weapons. I offered up a smile. “I am Lt. Keck,” I said. “Greetings.”
The alien didn’t speak.
“I mean you no harm. I just want to ask you a few questions.”
He stared back silent, unmoving.
“Can you understand me?”
The creature nodded its bulbous head.
“Can you speak?”
“Yes,” he weakly replied. His voice sounded hollow and distant. It reminded me of our own satellite transmissions.
“Do you have a name? Something you are called?”
He hesitated, as if trying to find words I would understand. “You can call me Usaf.”
“Ok, Usaf. Can you tell me how you came to be here?”
“Yes you did.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize. I wasn’t told that.” I turned around to look at the door. I knew that in another room somewhere close we were being monitored. Typical for those in charge not to divulge all the details.
“Well, if you were shot down, it was because you entered restricted air space and we had to protect our citizens.”
“Inhabitants,” I explained. “The species that dominate all life on this planet.”
This he seemed to understand, and even nodded as if to acknowledge me.
“So, where are you from?”
He mumbled something from his non existent lips. I couldn’t quite make it out.
“Does your planet have a name?”
He nodded silently.
I turned to the wall closest to us. I got up and walked over and touched it, trying to keep my eye on him, in case he made an effort to lunge and attack. A panel in the wall slid down to reveal a huge map of stars and the known universe.
“Can you identify your planet on here?”
He looked at it from where he sat, leaned forward as if to see it more clearly. And then shook his head back and forth. No.
“Do you recognize anything at all on here?”
Again he shook his head. This was going to be difficult for us both. And the alien knew it. I sat back down, feeling a bit dejected. He hung his head, burying his featureless face in his hands. For a moment I thought I heard him exhale a frustrated sigh. Then, he lifted his head, placing his hands to the side of it. I heard a hiss and two thin wisps of vapor shot out the side of his head.
I jumped in alarm and nearly fell over backwards in my chair. A fissure had opened in his head and his hands were cracking it open as if it were a shell. As he pulled his head apart, I heard him gasp, taking in a deep breath of air. I glanced quickly behind me, and saw the guards had their weapons at the ready and were blocking the door, in case he decided to attempt escape.
The alien laid the shell fragments of his head on the table and looked at me with a new face. This one had features, and though I expected our first visitors from space to look different, I didn’t think they would be this hideous. The skin on its new face was tight, with wrinkles, lines, and ridges. Most of these lines were around two sunken orbs almost centered to the face. These orbs darted frantically back and forth, taking in the room in a panic. It appeared as if these orbs functioned as my own eyes did, though maybe not as well. A protrusion below the eyes flared in uncertain rhythm, giving me the sense this was how the creature breathed, much like our own species. Another opening appeared below this, revealing rows of jagged teeth, dulled and discolored, possibly by its time in space. The alien licked its lips, if that was in fact what they were.
“Help,” he uttered, and I could see in his eyes the most extreme trace of fear I’d ever encountered. If we were worried about him, he was more worried about us. The alien was terrified.
I wondered to myself what I could do to ease his anxiety. I studied the extraterrestrial the best I could. For the first time I noticed he had the name he gave me emblazoned across the right side of his chest. USAF.
“You are called usaf?” I reiterated to make him feel at ease.
“No,” he admitted. “I am Liam.”
“Then what is usaf?”
“United States Air Force.”
This didn’t seem familiar to me. “What does it mean?”
“Originally it was a combat unit,” he explained.
This word I understood, and it wasn’t a good one.
“What about now?”
I felt a lump in my throat. This wasn’t good. We had made a mistake in sending out our transmissions all those light years ago. An alien race had discovered them, learned, adapted, and now was reaching out across the stars in search of its naïve creator….us.
“The Aliens Have Landed” by Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.
Long, long ago during a dynasty long forgotten
lies this tale that I’m about to begin
about the princess of the captured sun,
the one they call Fairamena Bryn.
Now she demanded of her father, the King
that she would never marry or be bethrothed,
save to the man who could capture the sun
and present it before her and the throne.
Her youthful beauty was legendary even then
inspiring suitors and charlatans alike,
who came to the palace in vain attempts
to capture the sun, try as they might.
Even Prince Schez-bala with all his fine gifts
could not meet the Fairamena’s demands,
and the sun herself stayed in the sky
to shine down upon the mountains and land.
There came a King from a land unheard about
and he tried his very best to succeed,
but alas there was no way to capture the sun
so he left to marry another, I believe.
A soothsayer came with a grandiose prediction
of how he would win Fairamena’s love,
but she replied, “not until you bring me the sun
or capture it from the skies above.”
They came and they came, until all men had lost
and none had achieved the prize
of being the one to marry the cute Princess
with the dark, almost almond eyes.
Her father, the King, with grim disappointment
was distressed and much sadly declared,
“my daughter, your demands seem way too great,
no one can snatch the sun from the air.”
But the Princess replied, “I’m sorry father
but I can’t give my heart away to just anyone,
for I have guarded it safely all of these years
so that it too may shine as the sun.
and the man who can capture the sun herself
in all her bright and stunning love,
is the only man who can hold my heart near
and be the one that I have dreamed of.”
“But they have come from far and wide”, said the King
“and it’s impossible to do what you ask,
they’ve tried and they’ve tried, some foolishly
but there’s no way to perform such a task.”
The Princess smiled because she knew somewhere
there was a man who could do this thing,
and she just would not settle for anything less
if her heart were to smile and sing.
Then one fateful day another suitor came calling
from the village of The Princess Bryn’s birth,
and he came bearing gifts with many good wishes
that he’d dug from the very earth.
He’d made pretty bracelets and sparkly anklets
to present to the princess with love,
and he told everyone he met along the way
that he could give her the very sun above.
So brought before the King and the whole court
the man announced, “I am Shakir-badhrou,
I’ve come for the hand of the fair princess
no matter what it is that I must do.”
“But you’re a peasant, not close to royalty”,
the King uttered in his most regal style,
“we know you, you used to make trinkets
of colored glass for the princess as a child.’
‘It will take much more than colored glass baubles
to impress us to give you her hand,
but if you can manage to capture the sun
then I’ve no choice but to declare you her man.”
Shakir smiled, “true, I am but a glassmaker
but love has impressed upon my heart
to stand before the sweet princess here today
with all my soul to impart…”
But the King Interrupted, “enough of these words,
can you do what the princess requires?”
Shakir replied, “I will catch the sun for love
and then show you a beauty even higher.”
They all stepped in the courtyard to watch his attempt
he showed them pieces of pretty painted glass,
until he produced one that was seemingly clear
“Now I will do what you have asked.”
He held out the glass and he captured the sun
within its reflective surface to shine,
“gaze upon this glass where I’ve caught it real
and for a moment it is yours and mine.”
All were astounded for there was the sun
in this piece of glass the peasant had brought
“when you want the sun, just use this glass
as long as it shines, it is caught.”
The court then applauded and the king was surprised
but the princess she gleefully smiled
as if some plan within her heart had worked out
though it had taken quite a little while.
Shakir said, “now behold… beauty herself
much greater than the shining sun”
and he held the glass to Fairamena’s face
“look, there is the most loveliest one.”
And in the glass the Princess saw her reflection
smiling back and fallen in love,
“This man”, she said, “he will be my husband
for he has captured the very sun from above.”
Shakir smiled at his pretty soon-to-be bride
and kneeled close for only her to hear
“my love, finally we no longer will meet in secret
but instead will forever be near.”
“I could never, ever marry anyone but you”
she whispered, “this plan was the only way
to ensure that you and I would be together
instead of Father selecting someone for me someday.”
But the King and the court didn’t hear these things
it was declared, “Shakir’s the one!”
and love beamed proudly from the sweet face
of the Princess of the captured sun.
And so is the case in tales such as these
that we sometimes hate to see the story end
but as we go back to our own little lives
theirs really only starts to begin.
and let me just say as a moral to learn
that if you’re dreaming of romance today
no matter how impossible it may seem to be
love will always find her way…
Poem by Paul D Aronson.
Photo credit unknown.
In the Age of the Two Kindreds
We lived in harmony with the land,
Forging the flames of the west
And the edens of the east,
Wedding the daughters of twilight
To the men who toiled the land,
Knowing we would return soon
To the far lonely isle.
We heard the dusk singer’s song
Born of the nightingales,
And we lamented their silenced voice
At the end of this time,
All the old songs are dead now
All part of ‘morrows myth,
But in the Age of the Two Kindreds
We lived in harmony with the land,
And loved all living things.
Poem by Paul D Aronson.
The woman I live with deleted her memory again. I don’t know why she keeps doing this. Why she feels the need to go to the Memory Eaters every time her heart gets broken. I’m surprised she even knows who she is, her brain nothing more than a patchwork quilt of disconnected memories.
I watch her as she cries, but I know I can’t go to her as I’d like, because let’s face it, I’ve been to Memory Eaters, too. They made a mistake with me though, or maybe she paid them to, I don’t know. I’ve heard her talk on the phone about the one that got away and I sometimes wonder if it’s me.
I guess Memory Eaters was a good idea on paper. Offer a service to the public with the tagline: “Got a bad memory you’d rather not have? We can erase it forever.” It’s interesting to note that the company never said what happened to the “eaten” memories. Were they truly gone forever or did they just store them to sell to other clients? Maybe like old junk in an attic, your trash was someone else’s treasure. And with that thought in mind, could you erase one memory and pay to have another inserted in its place? I’m sure someone out there has the answer, but like me, they ain’t talking.
For me, it’s because I can’t. A direct result of what she calls the accident, I have been rendered without the power of human speech. Though I think she may have felt remorseful over the incident, nowadays she takes it in stride, and only rarely does she carry that apologetic look on her face. She just sets the water bowl and food dish before me and watches me lap it up. I think somehow she finds it amusing that I was once her boyfriend, and now thanks to Memory Eaters and their “accident”, I am a dog, or at least I think I am.
“Memory Eaters” 2002 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.