Here We Meet Markus PF 120

 
 

This is where Markus has spent most of his adult life. He never knew his parents—although he thinks he’s met them in dreams. There was an older man he traveled with from the time he was five until about eight. “About” eight because he isn’t sure how old he is—too much of a hassle to keep track of. That man, Salizar, was not someone Markus enjoyed being around, but the partnership was mutually beneficial for the years they worked together.

Saying they “worked” together is, well...Can you say thieves work? They do ply a trade, they do make a living, but it’d be hard to say that stealing from others is “earning your keep”. The nature of what Sal taught Markus is what drove Markus away. Markus never liked stealing. But Sal’s argument to the child’s complaints were always the same, “If they needed this stuff they should have been more careful with it,” usually followed by a half cackle, half chuckle. A sound Markus grew to detest.

“What was it like? His laugh,” Elleen asks and continues to polish glasses behind the bar.

“Always made me think of a dog being punched in the throat. Not really what it sounded like...I don’t think...maybe? Gosh, I’ve never heard that—never want to.” Markus takes a sip of his cider, pretty tart. Rolls his lips together. “This is way better than last year’s.”

Elleen smirks, “What do you mean? How so?”

“Has more of a bite to it, I like it.”

“Not a fan of sweet, huh?”

“When it comes to ciders? No, not really. A hint, but not much more.”

“We have other kinds too, but you said you wanted—”

“I’m not complaining, it’s great. I prefer them this way.”

After his drink, Markus leaves the Blue Moth bar. The sounds of innumerable insects fill the air. His skin is already sweating in the humidity. The sweat never really stops until winter. A passerby nods, Markus nods back and wipes his damp brow on his sleeve. Pulls the folded piece of paper from his pocket. Smooths it out, looks at the face. Below the image is the name “Clay Banks”. Markus grins at the name, the last one more than the first. Finds it amusing that the guy he’s been thinking about collecting a bounty on has the name of Banks. Reminds him of a time Salizar thought they could rob one in Lafayette.

--- --- ---

“But that isn’t our money,” the child, Markus, says, shaking his head.

“You didn’t say anything yesterday when we stole that food.”

“Yes I did. I told you I don’t like stealing. I’ve been saying that. I’m not going to—”

Salizar drops to a knee, pinches Markus’s ear between the nails of his thumb and first finger. “Listen to me...Hey, look at me.”

“You’re hurting me.” Markus fights back tears.

“I hope I am. If we don’t take this money, we can’t eat and if we can’t eat,” Sal shakes his head, let’s the ear go. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that, you know I’m your friend.”

Markus sniffles, nods because that seems like the best thing to do. But he thinks that Sal is not his friend. In fact, he doesn’t like Sal one little bit. “Alright. I’ll do it.”

“Good, good,” Sal grins, rubs his hands together, scans the area. “Right when they open.”

Fifteen minutes later, the bank’s front door is unlocked. A man wearing a nice vest steps outside with a feather duster. Goes to the windows, dusts the sills, then tugs on his vest as he heads back inside. Markus follows.

A bell on the door rings as Markus enters the bank. The man behind the counter looks up, smiles. He’s wearing a visor now. He waves to the boy.

“How can I help you, son?”

Markus waits until he’s right up at the counter to speak. “There’s a guy outside that wants to rob you.” The man’s eyes widen. “He wants me to tell you he needs help getting inside, then I’m supposed to take whatever money I can find.”

“Sounds like he wants you to do the robbing.”

“Yeah. I always do it for him, but I don’t want to anymore. I don’t like him and I don’t want to steal.”

“Okay. Would you help me then?”

“Maybe. What do you want me to do?”

“Head out the back door, I’ll show you. Go to the sheriff’s office, you know where that is?” he asks, Markus nods. “Okay, good. I’ll go help your friend—that man.”

“Sal. Salizar.”

“Right, okay. I’ll help him in, then you tell the sheriff what you told me and he’ll come and handle it.”

Markus nods, feels his insides spin. He does as the bank man asked and, after a whirlwind of activity, Salizar is being led to a cell in the sheriff's office. Salizar scans, scowling, looking for the boy that betrayed him. Markus watches from a distance, hidden behind a water trough where a horse sips and pays the boy no mind.

--- --- ---

The sound of boots on wood walkways shakes Markus from his daydream. Coming his way is Norin. Works with his uncle at the butcher shop, mid-twenties and a little slow, but a real sweetheart.

“Hi, Markus. You go huntin’?”

“Hey, Norin. Not for a couple of days. How’re you?”

“Could use...Oh, I’m good. We’re running a little low on stock. Unc’ says we might have another two days. Sure could use some more game if you’d like to make some money.”

Markus nods, smiles, folds the picture of Clay up and shoves it into his pocket. Two hours later, he’s walking up to the pre-Fall school he’s called home for the past fifteen-odd years. He sits on his bed and opens the latest book he’s been reading. This one is about the second world war. In the back of his mind the wanted poster tickles his thoughts. He knows he’ll be heading out to find one Clay Banks in the very near future.

 

Here We Meet Lana PF 120

 
Art by:  Jakub Skop

Art by: Jakub Skop

 

120 years after The Fall--more often written “120 PF” (Post Fall) is where this story begins. Let’s turn our attention to Lana, 31, and living alone at Willow Bend Sanctuary in southern Louisiana, Lana has known Willow Bend as home for the past fourteen years. Before this she traveled with her family in a caravan of like-minded folks. The fifty-odd people shared knowledge and learning wherever they went. Her parents taught unrelated subjects.

Todd was a fencing instructor. His grand-father was an Olympian from Canada--never medaled, but came in fourth during the 2016 and 2020 games. Made it to London in 2012, but was injured before the opening ceremony and was unable to compete. The injury was a blast out of left field. Al had been walking up stairs to attend a meeting and tripped. Broke his wrist and spent the rest of the time in the stands watching people he barely knew play games he wasn’t all that familiar with. If it wasn’t fencing, he didn’t have much time for it. After The Fall, Al passed what he knew onto his son, who taught Todd.

The demand for learning to use a sword was minimal for the first few decades after The Fall, but had grown with time. As ammunition became more rare, other means of defense became more used and respected. To win a fight with a sword meant far more than winning with a gun. There was skill in shooting, to be sure, but not the same as a melee weapon. Bragging rights and prestige were to be won. Todd had been in three duels, and won each.

Ran, Todd’s wife, was an art teacher. The name “Ran” was not what she’d been given at birth. She’d been named Rachael, her brother would tease her and call her Randy. Neither Randy nor Rachael stuck, but “Ran” did. Ran loved all mediums, clay, paint, pencils, rocks, dirt, a handful of leaves. She was all about making everywhere you go a little more pretty. She and her students would leave things here and there, signs for others that knew what to look for, that this was a way teachers had been.

At seventeen Lana decided to plant roots at Willow Bend. The caravan had been passing through the nearby town of Blue Moth on their way to Lafayette. They made a stop at the sanctuary to trade. Ended up staying for two weeks, and Lana said she’d stick around for another next five years. Made a commitment, right then and there, she wouldn’t leave for at least that long. Willow Bend asked for a minimum of six-months if someone wanted to stay. Classes lasted from one to three weeks and anyone at all was allowed to attend. The cost was two dollars and what help you could offer, three dollars if you chose not do any work and instead wanted to spend more one-on-one time with the sanctuary’s teachers. Most opted to work.

Lana, now 31, spent most of her childhood with anyone that could teach her about physical strength. Her mother was too “Head in the clouds,” and her father’s craft didn’t care as much about strength as agility. There’s no telling what set Lana down this path. Whatever it was, led to her being one of the most physically able individuals at Willow Bend. Everyone at the sanctuary knew Lana was, with no close second, the strongest woman there—with only a few males to surpass her.

If not eating, lifting weights, or practicing jiu-jitsu there was equal chance for Lana to be running or sleeping. There was little else she did. She found time to meditate each day, but it often wasn’t more than ten to twenty minutes. Many students would spend hours sitting, but Lana had other things on her mind. She wanted to improve herself, become a specimen of peak, physical prowess.

 

I Believe You 1955

 
 

“I don’t remember how I got there, I think I must have sleep walked…Do you mind not writing while I tell you this?”

He looks over his glasses, glances at the pencil and pad of paper. “I need to take notes, miss. I’ll be going over them later to try and understand your situation.”

"You’d understand if you listened to me.”

Folds his hands, “Alright, I’ll refrain from writing.” His lips attempt to lift into a smile. His eyes say what his mouth won’t.

“You know, no, it’s fine. I’ll be going…Thank you for your time.”

“You’ve hardly used twenty minutes. You’ve still got—”

“It’s fine.” Pulls her jacket off the rack, shuts the door a little harder than she means to.

Pushes a few coins into the payphone in the lobby downstairs. Ring…Ring-ring, click-connect.

“Hello?”

“Hi, mom.”

“Hey, how’d it…You left early? Ah, hun. What happened this time?”

“He kept on scribbling on his stupid paper.”

“That’s his job, love. They take notes.”

“He wasn’t listening to me.”

Sigh--sounds like snow blown against a window at night. “Sam-Sam-Sam, you can’t keep doing this. You need to talk to someone.”

“And I want to, but no one wants to listen. They either ignore me, think I’m a nut, or just do the whole ‘Oh, yes, sure-sure, go on’, thing. Laughing at me. No one believes me.”

“Well, hun, to be honest what you’ve been saying does sound a little—”

“Don’t. Just…I don’t even know why I called.” THUNKS her head against the side of the booth, winces, rubs her palm there. Hopes a lump doesn’t form.

“Let me talk to some more of my friends at the school, I’ll try and find someone that’s a little more, ah, open-minded about these things.”

“No, I’m done trying your way. I’ll figure something out.”

“Samantha, please. What does that mean?”

Watches traffic pass outside. A bus rumbles by, the windows shiver, dust parts. “Huh.”

“I’m worried about you, Sam.” Mom says.

“I’ll be fine. I’ll call you again soon. Love you, hugs and kisses.”

“Love you too.”

Samantha heads out the front door, checks the street, dashes across. Pushes the door open and the smell of incense hits her like walking into a tree. Someone unseen tells her to make sure she pulls the door closed tight. Sam gives the door a tug, latch snaps into place. Folds her jacket over an arm. A draft might be nice, the air is still and warm.

“Something didn’t go so well for you, mm?” the old woman asks.

“You can tell?” Pushes aside the thin curtain separating the entrance from the main room. A little old woman, with a dried apple face, hovers over a spread of Tarot cards lit by candle light. “Did your cards tell you that?”

“What?” looks up, honest confusion. Looks back at the cards. “Oh”—laughs, coughs, grunts—”goodness, no. Hand me that glass, would you?” points a crooked finger.

“Oh, of course, here you are.” Gets a whiff of the contents, not water.

“Mm, thank you. Whew, oh that’s the ticket.” Gathers the cards up, shuffles them into the deck, her nimble hands work like a practiced magician’s. “What can I do for you?”

“How did you know something was bothering me?”

The woman laughs, “Because you’re a human. I may as well have said, ‘Ooh, tasted some air today, eh?’ Something has goes bad for everyone. It’s my way of saying hello. I’m an old woman, let me be weird.”

“Well, you’re right. I was just across the street at Doctor Kleper’s. Know him?”

“Know of him. Never talked to him.”

“Went to the same school as my mom…Or knows someone there that did? I’m not sure. My mom got me in contact with him. Wanted me to talk about something that happened a few years ago. He’s…Oh, maybe the twentieth person I’ve gone to. No one believes me.”

“So you came to me?”

Samantha shrugs, a subtle gesture. “I need to talk to someone that doesn’t think I’m crazy.”

“Then you should go see Tom Paine. Off Ninth and…Ah, oh, hmm, I don’t remember. Look him up and give him a call.”

Sam heads towards Ninth, ducks into a café, dials the operator, asks for Tom Paine on Ninth. Line clicks a couple times, then rings.

“Hello?”

“Oh, hi. Is this Mr. Paine?”

“It is.”

“Are you a head doctor?”

Twenty minutes later she’s breathing heavy at the top of fourteen flights of stairs. Catches her breath and knocks on the door marked PAINE. Funny name for a doctor. When he answers the door she tells him so.

“Oh,” he smiles, “I’m not a doctor. I just talk to people. Never bothered with the schooling. Want anything to drink? Water maybe? Bit of exercise, hm? Those stairs.”

Samantha nods, “Water, yes please. Thank you.”

After introductions they sit across from each other in a semi-circle room full of light. The windows overlook the busy street below. An occasional horn blast cuts through the hum of city life, but otherwise the sounds are dull this high up. Smoke drifts from chimney’s, a woman hangs clothes on a line, a cat paws the air as a bird passes.

“So what is it you want to talk about.”

“I’m just going to spill it and if you think I’m nuts, that’s fine. I’ve done this more than a dozen times, I’m used to people thinking I’m crazy. Only my mom doesn’t, but she isn’t sure what I am. Confused I guess”—shakes her head—”but I’m not. I know damn well what I saw…What happened. It was more real than this,” taps the side of her glass. “Or you.”

“What was?”

“Death. It wasn’t a he or a she, it just was. I don’t even know how I ended up in the woods. I’ve tried to find that place, but I can’t. How is that possible?” she asks. His brows and shoulders lift. “Well it happened, and you know how I know it happened? Because I changed.”

“How’s that?”

“I used to be sad all the time, worried about each day, what I would do, what might happen. Practically afraid of my own shadow. But after I met Death, that hasn’t been the case. Usually when I get to this part the Doctor tells me that’s what matters, that I changed. So what does it matter what I saw. They tell me let my dream, or vision, or whatever it was go. But it wasn’t a dream or a vision or anything like that at all, it was real.”

“I see. And how come you wanted to tell me this? How come you’ve gone to so many others to talk about this?”

“Part of it is my mom. Says I need to reconcile this, figure out what I actually saw. I don’t think that’s going to happen though. I just want someone to believe me. Believe that there are things that can happen that we can’t explain. That’s all I want.”

“Then you’ve found what you’ve been looking for. I’ve seen a lot of things that I can’t explain. I believe you.”

 

Another Land 67 PF

 
Art by:  Alwyn Talbot

Art by: Alwyn Talbot

 

Japan was the third place Autumn visited outside the U.S. Took her a year to work up the courage, terrified of the language barrier. Ended up not being too much of an issue. More confusion from the locals than anything else. No hostility. When she brought it up to her dad back home he wasn’t surprised.

“Aren’t enough people left to be mean.” Sam said.

She considered that. “You’ve told me things were different before The Fall, people being jerks to each other. You think’s that’s why? Too many people?”

“Hmm, well…No, I don’t know that I’d say there were too many, but it was a lot easier to get lost in the mix. Once heard a philosopher put the problem a way that was real easy to understand—forget what he called the issue.” Thinks for a second, shrugs. “Anyways, back then there were all kinds of charities, non-profit groups, organizations set on helping the needy. Starving kids, war torn communities, disaster zones. Sometimes you’d see an ad on TV, an emaciated child holding an empty bowl, sorrowful music. Some white woman dressed in khaki comes on screen, picks the child up, stares at you—Won’t you help? Worked better than showing a group of children in just as bad of shape as the first and asking you to donate.
”The philosopher’s point was that even though all those children in the picture need as much help as the first, our minds kind of glaze over at a certain point. Just sort of shut down in the face of that big of a problem. One child? Sure, I can help one. Ten…Oh, wow, okay, maybe I can help ten. But ten-thousand? Gosh, no.”

“But go on,” Sam sips his tea. “Finish telling me about Japan.”

The old man bows to her, says something, but Autumn only shakes her head, waves her hands—I’m sorry, I doesn’t understand. He nods. Ducks into his home. Returns a moment later with a small box, holds it out to her. When she doesn’t take it he opens it, stirs the contents with a finger, sniffs—“Aah”—nods for her to do the same. Some kind of spice? Seems he’s giving it to her, she thanks him. Tries to imitate his bow.

Outside of the city a buck wanders out of a building into what was once a road. Now paths of plant life cutting through the ancient human-made structures. The buck eats leaves. Sunlight filters through the tree canopy, reflects off buildings, twinkles in dew. Autumn watches the buck as she sets up her tent. He pays her no mind. A few minutes later she’s back in Arizona. Shows her dad the box of—

“Tea,” Sam says. “You got tea. Now this’ll be a real treat. Boil some water. You’ll like this.”