Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Phantasmagoria

by Daniel William Gonzales


Gregory Morrison hated space food. It always tasted like farm feed to him. You could only eat dehydrated meatloaf so many times before you actually began to miss the moisture of real meatloaf. Then there was Eddie, the vegan who had his own stash of hydrated garden burgers. Finally there was Calvin Maxwell, the eccentric leader of their crew whose father had been a world famous space explorer so Calvin was obsessed with trying to live up to some imagine of a man he had never really known.

His father had died when he was sixteen during a routine mission to Mars and when they had gone back to earth, the ship had gotten caught up in the earth’s atmosphere and come apart. It was a national tragedy; he remembered for a long time that people kept looking at him strangely, as if he possessed some secret knowledge of his father’s death, as if he could give them some insight into the death of a national hero.

“At least we have cable,” Greg said.

“I hate it,” Eddie said.

“Hate what?” Greg moaned, sick of hearing the vegan complain.

“I hate this! Being cooped up in a spacecraft, I got into this gig because I wanted to explore other worlds, see stars up close, not to fix satellites and collect meteoroid rocks.”

“That is the meat and potatoes of the space industry, Ed,” Calvin spoke up.

“Yeah, if you don’t like it I suggest you take the pod back to Earth and just pray it survives the trip through the earth’s atmosphere.”

As soon as Greg had uttered the words, he winced, “Oh shit, sorry, Calvin. I wasn’t even thinking.”

Calvin said nothing. He hated that his father’s death was all he was known for.

“Hey, there’s no need to be defensive, Greg. I was only sharing a complaint.”

“More like whining. The sixties are over, pal. They have been for a long time. So save your hippie, I’m going to change the world crap for someone who gives a damn.”

Ed gasped, “You know, man. I didn’t expect this from you. When I first met you, you seemed like a pretty level headed guy. I find it really sad that you have all this pent up anger inside of you. Maybe I could help you work out some issues. I have some books in my room that I could lend you.”

“Save it! I don’t want to read your New Age propaganda. I was raised to be a real man, not some tree-fucking pussy!”

“My gentle spirit has nothing to do with my masculinity. If you are insinuating that I am a homosexual, you are very wrong. Although I have had many emotionally fulfilling relationships with men that made me understand why men are gay.”
Greg cried out in horror, “Jesus Christ, man! You are the biggest fag I have ever met in my life!”

“Cut it out!” Calvin shouted, “I expect professionalism. We have an important job to do. I sense some para-psychic activity up ahead.”

“A wormhole?” Greg asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe or something else.”

An alarm went off.

“Eddie, go outside and check para-cell 8.”

“I just tightened it this morning.”

“GO!”

Eddie waltzed over serenely to the hatch and began to suit up. He sealed his helmet over his head then opened the launch tube. The door sealed behind him then he entered the security code and the landing hatch opened up.

In the darkness of space, Eddie clutched onto the side of the ship and climbed over to para-cell 8. The cover to the panel had become loose again. Something was pulling it off.

This is weird, he thought. In the vacuum of space, the forces of gravity usually weren’t this violent. It was as if something was pulling off the panel. That would require a lot of kinetic energy.

Eddie looked up and saw the electric swirls up ahead. A series of colors shone and dashed about wildly. Purple, green, blue, red and yellow.

It was a wormhole after all.

Eddie was mesmerized; it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life. The energy was strong and literally enveloped him. The tunnel was magnifying its energy unlike anything Eddie had ever seen before. It was literally draining the heat from his body and feeding off of it. Yet Eddie could not take his eyes off the long tendrils of color which touched him through his suit and slowed his heartbeat so it could feed. The buttons on his space suit began to vibrate. Somehow the tunnel had become magnetized. It was attracting the nuts and bolts on his suit.

Eddie cried out as they began to fly off of him.

“Open the landing! Open the landing!” he cried.

He kept pressing the com button on the inside of his suit, “Open it! Open it!”

“I’m trying,” Calvin said, “It won’t let me!”

The arms ripped off his suit, then the lid of his space suit shattered and like a fish out of water, he began to suffocate. In a last ditch effort to save his life, he grabbed onto the hatch door and attempted to pry it open with his nails. He scratched frantically at the landing hatch, trying to pull it towards him but as soon as he got close, the energy pulled him and he kept slipping. Then Eddie felt the tendrils of colorful energy surround him and suck him toward the ball of light which spiraled like a long string of souls all bound together. The sides of the tunnel opened up and burned him like the flames of a dying sun and sucked him into its fiery mouth which swallowed him whole.

He disintegrated almost instantly.

Inside the ship, havoc was breaking loose. Greg was nearly blubbering with fear.

“Just pull away from it! Change course!”

“I’m trying! The damn things too strong! It’s magnetized and is pulling the entire ship into it. We have no choice. We are going to be sucked in. We need to get into our hyper sleep pods. They will freeze us and stop the aging process.”

Calvin began to move towards the back of the ship.

“No! I can do this!” Greg said and fiddled with the controls wildly.

“You’re a fool! You’ll die!” Calvin screamed at him.

He ran to his hyper sleep pod and initiated sequence. There was a small chance he would survive and that the wormhole wouldn’t just melt the ship in its fiery chasm. I guess we’ll see, he thought. Help me, Dad, were his last thoughts as the machine froze him.

Meanwhile Gregory was fighting against a wonder of the universe and failing. The wormhole sucked the ship closer then just as they were about to be consumed by the heat of the tunnel, it pulled the ship through at lightning speed.

Greg didn’t have a chance.

He grew ancient within seconds. His flesh grew withered and old, the flesh literally was devoured by the processes of advanced time and all that was left was a skeleton. Then even the skeleton ceased to exist after a time and disintegrated to dust. Several more seconds and even the dust was gone as if the man named Gregory Morrison had never even existed.

The wormhole spat the ship out the other end. Then the ship split in half, the shock had been too much for it. The panels unraveled and the ship split in half. Self-sufficient in its own right, the hyper sleep pod still functioned without the ship commanding it. Calvin Maxwell, son of Simon, floated in outer space encased in his glass coffin for years.

Like Snow White before him, he waited until his savior came to rescue him, only it was not a handsome prince but rather a spacecraft.

The occupants of this rather peculiar looking craft scanned this strange cargo and then loaded it onto the ship.

“Oh my god!” one of the men said, “I recognize this guy! He’s Simon Maxwell’s son, the famous explorer of Terra 9. I remember him from that book…the one in the temple! Why, he’s been missing for over two hundred years.”

Calvin awoke in a small white room. He found it painful to open his eyes. They had been frozen shut so long. He licked his lips with what felt like a rubber tongue. How long had he—

Voices surrounded him. They seemed to have no actual physical presence. Where am—

Someone (something?) touched his arm.

“I think it’s awake,” he heard someone say.

“I...” he tried to talk but instead vomited.

“Silence, you are weak,” a man said, “You have freezer burn. We are treating you. Your arm broke off. We had to replace it with a synthetic one. It will look and feel exactly the same as your real arm did. Do not worry, you are safe.”

Calvin couldn’t see them, everything was so blurry. All he could make out were vague black shapes against a backdrop of white.

“Where...”

“You are on Earth. No, we are not aliens. We are human, just as you. A great many people are excited by your return, you are a legend. Students see your picture in history texts. Your father was a great man, innovative for his time. He made the first bold steps toward colonization of other worlds. He changed the way we thought about the universe. However, the human race colonized over six planets since your time and discovered five parallel universes to ours.”

“How…long?”

“Have you been gone you mean? Well, this may come as a shock to you but Mr. Maxwell; you have been missing for over two hundred years.”

Calvin was stunned, he began to shake.

“No…everyone I knew…”

“Yes, sadly they are all gone. The world has moved on. You will find though a great many things have changed from your time that a lot remains the same. We have preserved many artifacts, relics if you will, from your time. They give us a link to our past.”

Strangely this made Calvin feel a little bit better. As long as he could still see the Statue of Liberty and Madison Square Garden then he was set.

He slept then and had a long dreamless sleep.

****

The world was nothing like he remembered it.

For one thing there were no cities. The landscape was one long stretch of huts, temples and jungle.

“As you may have noticed,” the man who introduced himself as Edic said, “The cities are gone. They were mostly destroyed before my time but some of the old ones could probably tell you of them. There was a war. A holocaust really in which most of the human race was wiped out. Those who survived decided on a new way of life. A return to nature. We called it Project Eden. The survivors of the holocaust were a smaller number than you might think. Only ten thousand left out of a population of billions. This was how far the devastation was spread. We have decided that technology and cities aren’t the way. We choose to live from a naturalistic point of view.”

Goddamn, Eddie was right after all, Calvin thought.

“We have gone back to what you may consider a primitive way of life but to us it is a revelation. Humanity was lost for so long, obsessed with war and progress, greed and death was everywhere. Our ancestors were right. This is what is most pure. We hunt what we eat, mostly fish and deer. That’s all the animals left now. We enjoy vegetables and fruits and the synthetic meat recipes. We have built temples in honor of the Goddess and we worship nature in all its miraculousness. The Goddess who graces us with the gifts of wind, earth and sunshine.”

“I see,” Calvin said, “So how is it that you said you saved things. I mean you told me you had artifacts from my time.”

“Oh!” Edic said, “We do! Come with me to the temples!”

Edic took Calvin’s hand and led him to a large brown stone temple at the apex of town. It was gigantic, it must have taken years to make.

Outside the temple children played jump rope and mother’s breast fed their newborns. Calvin entered the temple and saw candles everywhere.

“Our forefathers persevered these artifacts found in the ruins of the wasteland.”

Edic led Calvin to a series of glass cases piled upon stones.

In one was the arch from a very popular fast food restaurant of his time that began with an M. In the next case he saw a magazine with celebrities on the cover.

“Who is this Jennifer Anniston? Was she a goddess of some sort?” Edic asked.

“To some, I suppose.”

In the third case Calvin saw a CD with the name Michael Jackson on it.

Calvin began to laugh hysterically.

“I don’t understand,” Edic said.

Once Calvin managed to get control of himself he said, “It just figures that out of all the great discoveries, all the art of the 21st Century, all that remains is this pop culture garbage.”

“What is this word: pop culture?” Edic asked, “Is it a metaphor? Like the goose laying the rainbow egg?”

“Uh…not quite.”

“It’s more like, we had so much more to offer than this and this is all that is remembered.”

“I understand.”

“I don’t think you do,” Calvin said, “Everything I knew is gone. My family, my friends, my wife…she told me not to go. She said she had a bad feeling about it. I never did listen.”

“I’m sorry,” Edic said, “I don’t know what to say. This place is all I have ever known. It is my home. I don’t know what I would do without it. Perhaps I would feel as lost as you seem to be.”

That night in the grand plaza, Calvin ate dinner with the village.

One of the head shamans, Vittoro spoke, “We would like to welcome a man of the past to our fine tribe. Frozen in time, he is a living testament to what was and ever shall be.”

Everyone cheered.

Calvin felt awkward.

They were all dressed so strangely, in such bright colors. He felt like he had walked in on an Easter parade in an insane asylum.

They all studied him closely as if he were an antique of some sort; they all seemed fascinated and simultaneously frightened by his presence. Especially the children who saw him as some exotic new toy with which to play.

The food wasn’t bad at all; deer meat, greens, some fruit mush with marshmallow and a cool ale. After dinner men beat on drums and everyone did a strange dance in which they seemed to gyrate their pelvises wildly. It looked like an orgy. Calvin was too embarrassed himself to join in with them.

“How are you enjoying yourself?” Edic asked.

“Very well,” Calvin said, “It’s very…amusing.”

“We are but humble servants of the earth.”

Later that night after things calmed down, a group of children gathered around the fire and an elder tribesman would tell them the stories of the Earth Gods.

Sometimes the Gods would interact with humans in the stories, other times they would become the living embodiments of a feeling or emotion. Calvin saw similarities in these tales from his own time. Joseph Campbell was right after all, myth lived on.

As Calvin grew tired and felt his eyelids droop, he saw a young girl who had to be in her late twenties with long cinnamon brown hair in exotic curls flowing down her back, the ends of them knitted with beads.

She looked at him for a moment shyly in the distance shyly but fascinated.

He gave her a quick smile and she returned it.

Calvin went to his tent and slept. When he awoke he heard the hustle and bustle of the morning market, matrons rolled in their wagons full of sugar treats they had made in the form of idols of the Gods. This was mostly for the children then there were other wagons with wooden sculptures like totems which held all the heads of nature: earth, wind, sun, rain, air.

The tribespeople came to barter with them over the worth of their goods. Children would have to recite poems or chants (some of which Calvin recognized fragments of) in order for them to get candy. While the elders traded deer skins for idols or handmade eating utensils. The way they did things was both new and old. It felt like pieces of modern culture had sifted through to the primitive and they had entangled together in some purgatorious resolution.

In his day, Calvin thought, the sight of all this shouting and calling out could easily have been mistaken for the New York stock exchange or a public auction.

That was when he saw the young girl again from last night.

Finally he worked up the courage to approach her.

“Hi. My name is Calvin,” he said.

She laughed, “I know. The traveler.”

“What’s your name?”

“Lyandra.”

“That’s a beautiful name.”

“My sister’s name is Lavender. I think it is more beautiful.”

Calvin laughed.

She seemed to enjoy watching him do so.

“How old are you?” he asked.

“Twenty six moons,” she said, “You?”

“Well, I used to be thirty-six but then I got frozen so I guess technically I am now two hundred and thirty six years old.”

She laughed, “Wow. You are very old.”

“I’m ancient,” he chuckled, “So do your people marry or take companions or what?”

Lyandra smiled at his question, “We take a soul lover and if they adore each other enough they go to the temple to dance their love before the Gods and become one being everlasting. After that they are wed in the way of which you speak.”

“I guess you guys don’t divorce.”

“There is the separation of souls but it is a great tragedy. We weep for it. They must go into the river and stay under for two minutes then spend the night in the woods from the softness of their beds. In that night, the Gods mourn for them. Then one of the halves must leave the village and settle elsewhere. They may never see one another again.”

“Wow, that’s harsh,” Calvin said.

“Harsh?” Lyandra said, “What is this word? Like violence?”

“Yeah. Sort of.”

“No. It is just such a great tragedy to abandon your soul. You will never be complete again. Sex is one matter. Love is a deeper thing. You may have sex with someone as a fancy of youth but adult love is everlasting.”

“What if the couple has children?”

“If they have one, he stays with the mother even if she is the one to leave the village. IF they have two children, a child for each. Three or more then they all stay with the mother.”

“Fascinating.”

“What about gay people? Do you have gay people here? That was a hot button issue of my time.”

“Gay? As in joyous delight?”

“No, as in two people of the same sex getting it on.”

She looked confused.

“Men who, uh, want to join souls with other men and women who want to join souls with other women.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “The chosen! Most of the shamans are what you would call gay. They have special powers and visions of the future. They are our helpers and spiritual leaders. They may take a lover if they wish but they can never join souls. It is forbidden. It is taboo. These men and women have a special destiny to fulfill; sexual relations do not matter to them as much as normal people. They are chosen by God to send messages. They are the conduit.”

“Interesting. The Republican Garden of Eden.”

Lyandra smiled obliviously.

“So what do you do all day?”

“I sew, I eat, I write in my journal, I pray, I think, I fish. The men hunt. They build things, talk, and make decisions. We are all very busy. We do not waste time. Laziness is one of the downfalls of man.”

“Productivity,” Calvin said, “Sounds like my time in its own way.”

He felt like an anthropologist investigating a foreign land, only it was his home, a home that had long transformed into something new and yet archaic.

“Can you show me where I fit in?” Calvin asked Edic.

“What do you mean?”

“Give me something to do. A purpose. I mean, I’m basically a dead man…I’m from a world that doesn’t exist anymore. I have to believe I was given a second chance for a reason.”

“You should see the shaman in the woods,” Edic said, “He will guide you to your true calling.”

“Where is he?”

“I will take you there.”

Edic took Calvin to a hut at the edge of the woods.

Edic knocked and Calvin heard the screech of a latch peel back and a face appeared like the Great and Wise Oz.

“Yes?”

“My lord, the traveler wishes to speak with you. He wants a reading.”

“I see. One moment.”

The latched closed and they heard some clattering inside the hut as some things were thrown. A dish smashed against the wall. Then the door slowly slid open. The place was bigger inside than it looked from the outside. The shaman was a slim middle aged man with gray around his temples and piercing blue eyes.

“You seek to know your place?” the shaman asked.

“Yes.”
“Sit.”

Calvin came in.

“Alone.”

Edic waited outside.

The only light sifted through the open windows of the hut. There was a bed in here, a bookshelf, a writing desk and a strange box of potions filled with various concoctions. It looked like he had weapons in there.

The man paced about for several minutes as Calvin sat in the desk chair. It was firm and sturdy.

Suddenly the shaman turned to him and said, “You saw him die. The astronaut. His skin melted from his bones. It haunts you still. It was the last thing you saw before you froze. You dream about it and wake up screaming sometimes in the night.”

“Yes.”

“There was another one. E—Edie? Eddie. He was like us. He was a lover of nature.”

“Yeah, Eddie was a vegan. He got on Greg’s nerves.”

“Yes. Greg was a very angry man but he liked you. He cared for you more than he could admit. He thought of you like a brother.”

Calvin didn’t know what to say to that.

“What about the future?” Calvin asked, “What am I here for? Why was I rescued?”

The shaman turned to Calvin suddenly, angrily and clutched his arm, “You are the betrayer! You will betray us all! No matter what we do—it is meant to be this way! You will destroy our way of life! It is your destiny!”

Calvin was scared; afraid the man might pull a hand axe out of the chest and attack him.

Then the shaman grew calm, “But nevermind that. Work in the fields with the men. Leave me. I have a headache.”

Calvin walked out of the hut.

“What did he say?” Edic asked.

“He said to work in the fields.”

They grew vegetables.

Long rows of corn, carrots, peas and bananas. All day long they plowed, watered and cut away weeds. This was work that Calvin could relate to. He had grown up on a farm before his family moved to New York when he was ten. He had done chores like this. Except there were cows and chickens, both of whom were extinct now. It was hard work but honest, Calvin knew what his ancestors must have felt like.

It was good exercise but his body grew burned form the sun and he had to barter an idol Lyandra gave him for an ointment for his reddened skin. The shamans were good apocatheries, they managed to make lotions and headache remedies from the simplest things. Weeks passed and Calvin finally felt he belonged in this place, on his home planet again. The new Earth was not so alien after all.

Soon the words of the shaman faded from memory altogether.

One night Edic showed Calvin a picture of himself from an old history text.

“I borrowed this from the temple,” he said, “They have a library of pre-Eden artifacts, you should see them. You might recognize a few things but this is how I knew who you were. When I first laid eyes upon you in the space capsule. It was this photo.”

Calvin saw his own face in a one hundred and fifty year old history textbook. It had a picture of him and a caption that read: Son of famous astronaut, Simon Maxwell, Calvin Maxwell disappeared during a routine mission to Alpha 9. He has not been heard from since.

“Amazing. It’s a legacy. Not one you’d ask for but something.”

“You hit a wormhole, didn’t you?”

“I don’t know. I believe so. It all happened so fast, I didn’t have much time to think. Hey, I just thought of something. How was it that in a land of earth worshippers you managed to have a spacecraft to go out and rescue me?”

“Oh,” Edic looked embarrassed, “We found you on the radar. There was an alarm, it warned us.”

“Radar?”

“While we may live above ground in this earthly paradise, below us exists the remnants of that old world. There are only a few of us who still believe it is worthwhile to explore it. We watch the monitors and look for signs of alien life. Or maybe even survivors of the Earth holocaust who somehow managed to escape. At the edge of the woods beneath this very ground we sit upon exist a base of operations your government must have created when things were very bad. Down there were two ships equipped to travel and one day when we got the distress signal from your glass coffin we ventured out to rescue you. Two priests, a shaman and myself.”

“Can I see this place?” Calvin asked.

“Of course. When would you like to?”

“Now?”

“Okay.”

At the edge of the woods there was a cavern that looked like an ordinary cave but when you walked inside, the platform became less rocky than metal and led down into the earth. The place looked like an old army base from his time but there were NASA logos all over the walls. It was dusty and most of the equipment was rusty but still operational.

“Amazing, it’s like a museum.”

“This place frightens the villagers. They see it as a bad omen.”

“This is a place of science,” Calvin said, “Not omens.”

He went to the counsel and began to press buttons.

“That is how we found you,” Edic said.

Suddenly on screen were images from satellites all throughout space. It was amazing. The transition from the land above, a tribute to primitivism then this hollow workspace below was almost hallucinatory as if he existed in two time periods at once. He felt torn between his new way of life and the memories of the old.

“Have you come in contact with any alien life?”

“We know there is alien life,” Edic said, “Who do you think humanity went to war against? They decimated us. We won the war just barely at a price. 99% of the world’s population was destroyed though. It was a hollow victory. Those who the aliens didn’t kill died of nuclear fallout sickness, after it was all over there were only ten thousand of us. Seven thousand reside here in New Eden, the others live in a place they call Pangea.”

“Who were these aliens? What were their names?”

“They were called the yahweth. They were very powerful and cunning.”

“Why didn’t the survivors try to colonize on other planets?”

“After the alien war people were scared of outer space. We just wanted our world back the way it was. It was enough for us. We only rescued you because you were human, a genetic link to the past. The days of space exploration are over. Nobody cares anymore.”

“I used to,” Calvin said, “I used to be so jealous of my father. I used to imagine how wonderful it would be to be up there. So high above the earth. Then when I got up there I didn’t feel anything. It was so empty. A child’s dream becomes an adult’s reality but so disappointing.”

“I’m sorry,” Edic said, “That’s why you must appreciate your new life here. You may see us as simple but honestly we have found peace. Peace in an honest day’s work, in plowing a field, in earning your keep, being productive and enjoying human interactions.”

“Yeah, we were losing that in the time I came from. Talking to people on a computer screen was our idea of socializing.”

“See. That’s why it’s so wonderful here. We have gone back to basics. To see what makes life work. Not greed or avarice or envy but compassion, productivity and faith.”

“You’re right,” Calvin said, shutting off the counsel, “This part of my life is done. I’m finally ready to move on.”

Together they left the cave.

The next few months were heaven to Calvin, he felt himself become filed with a sense of wonder and peace at his new surroundings. Finally he belonged somewhere, he had found his calling. Lyandra and he became close friends and she taught him more of the ways of her people. He did not try to make the relationship romantic, just her friendship was enough for now. Then one night during a huge bonfire as several men beat their drums wildly and women shrieked, they danced over the flame.

Apparently it was a religious holiday of some sort.

People began taking off their clothes and started dancing naked around the bonfire.

“All hail Goddess Earth! Her sovereign womb! Her illustrious beauty! Her blissful mounds!” they chanted. A few boys giggled at the last entry.

However Calvin felt a tense feeling of foreboding now but he did not know why. He had the feeling something horrible was about to happen.

Then he saw one of the men gyrating wilding trip over a log and he fell into the fire. His entire body became consumed by the flames within moments.

Everyone started screaming, the man ran about wilding flailing and rolled in the dirty. It was too late though, the fire had burnt through his skin to his brain, and he was dead.

A woman began to sob and everyone said a prayer. A bucket of water was thrown on the fire. After that the party broke up.

Calvin felt terrible for the man.

Lyandra came to his tent that night.

“May I enter?”

“Of course.”

“I am very sorrowful about what happened tonight.”

“As am I.”

“May I sleep with you?”

“What do you mean? Like in my bed?”

“Or the floor whichever you prefer.”

Calvin went to the bed then and Lyandra joined him. Suddenly her skin next to his felt just right and he began to stroke her. She was rubbing her fingers up and down his chest and before he knew it they were making love.

He felt calm afterwards as Lyandra lay in his arms; a great tension had left him. He was able to weep then for his lost wife and his lost life.

The next day in the fields he felt the sun burn his back.

The heart was scorching.

He had worked half the day when he finally took a break and suddenly spotted what looked to be the man who had burnt to death in the fire last night. He nearly staggered.

“Isn’t that the man who died last night?” he asked one of the men he worked with.

The man did not look up< “No. I am sure you are mistaken.”

Yet Calvin was sure it was him. He remembered the man’s exact face, the smirking grin, the way he had leapt.

He approached the man who saw him and then frantically ran away.

“Hey! Wait!”

He had no name to call out.

Weird, he thought but went back to work.

That night he felt restless and decided to the lake for a swim.

He washed his face and saw the moon reflected in the water.

It’s all so beautiful, he thought. So perfect.

Then across the river near the edge of the woods he saw the man from the field earlier. The dead man.

He decided he would follow.

The man walked for a very long time through the woods, past the shaman’s hut and beyond the cavern where Edic had taken him that day.

Calvin walked to a place he had never seen before.

A cave unlike any other, it seemed somehow recent, artificial.

Slowly he crept through the grass, the soft squishes below his feet and from inside the cavern he heard voices.

“I need replenishing!” the dead man shouted, “I can feel myself rotting! You need to replenish me!”

“We are doing the best we can,” a familiar voice said.

It was Edic.

Calvin moved towards the entrance to peer inside. The moonlight provided him with a soft glow of light. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. It was the most grotesque thing he had ever seen in his existence.

There were human bodies lining the walls of the cave, a huge mass of undulating flesh squirming and trying to pry itself free. Arms, legs, eyes, ears, mouths, torsos all dashed about haphazardly on this living quilt of human flesh.

It looked like a vision of what Calvin had imagined hell would be like.

So this was the other side of Eden, apparently the serpent had built himself a lair.

“WHAT IS THIS?” Calvin screamed.

Edic and the dead man turned.

“It’s not what you think,” Edic said, “They aren’t real. Just synthetics. They provide the wounded with fresh parts. They saved this man’s life. Without them he would be dead.”

Calvin saw a woman’s face and mouth on the wall behind him; her expressions of anguish and despair were so raw and real that he had to look away. Limbs twitched and hands palmed at him into nothingness.

“This is sick,” Calvin said, “How can you do this to them?”

“They aren’t real,” Edic said, “They don’t feel things the way you and I do. They are husks. They don’t have souls. Would you really pity the damned?”

“They look like they feel something and its suffering, endless suffering! How can you be so clinical?”

“You’re the scientist, you tell me,” Edic said coldly, “We made these people a promise, one that we intend to keep.”

“We?”

“Haven’t you guessed it by now, you ape or is your tiny little brain too small to digest it? Paradise isn’t paradise if there is death in it. If you want a true Eden you must given them immortality, that’s what we provide. They are the hosts, we are the providers.”

“You’re them! You are the aliens you spoke of that day! We lost the war!”

“It’s not that simple. You really are a monkey. It’s that us versus them mentality that killed off your kind. No, we are not them. They are us and we are one.”

Edic opened up his robe and exposed his chest. Underneath his skin something crawled and rolled about in his belly.

“We made a deal. We could not defeat them. All they wanted was a place to live. We wanted immortality. It was the perfect trade. They give that to us. All we do is give them a warm place to sleep.”

“Parasites! You’ve allowed yourself to be infected by goddamn parasites!”

Edic looked insulted, “You xenophobic primitive! You are so blinded by your own ignorance that you can’t see a gift when it lies before your beady little eyes. We are immortals! We get to live forever! The war ended ages ago. I should be an old man by now but still I have preserved this youthful flesh. I never have to grow old or die.”

“I see. So you live off the suffering of these things you call synthetics. Human flesh on a rack waiting for you. Look at them! They are in anguish and can’t even scream! You can call this progress if you want to but it’s just wrong!”

Edic laughed, “How easy of you to say when it’s one of the synthetic limbs you are wearing on your arm right now.”

Calvin shivered.

“Or don’t you remember? Your real arm broke off when you came out of hyper sleep. Would you rather be one armed?”

“No…but I don’t want to achieve it like this.”

Calvin looked at his right arm then like a stranger. It seemed so much like his but yet it had come from the endless seeping wall of skin. An eyeball stared at him now from a man’s forehead. A mouth opened and closed desperately to speak something. An arm slid out of a man’s chest and reached towards him as if wanted to reclaim a piece of itself.

Calvin vomited on the ground.

“This is inhuman! I can’t stand for it! I won’t! Paradise isn’t worth this! This is too fucking weird!”

“The monkey speaks again. Tell me, ape. Did you cry in your time when they tested products on little animals and made them scream?”

“FUCK YOU!”

Calvin turned and ran from the cavern.

“Run, you ape! Run all you want but you are a part of this! Whether you let us in or not! You are a part of this wall of skin!”

The dead man pressed his back up against the wall and felt several hands slide into him through his skin. He moaned, the sensation was almost erotic. They began to rebuild him, repairing his organs. The breast of a woman rubbed against his lips, he sang out to them and the wall of pulsating flesh wrapped him in a tight pink cocoon and mended.

When Calvin got back to the village he sought out Lyandra. She was carving another totem for bartering day. It was then that he notices how strange the item looked like a white grasshopper’s face. These weren’t Gods. They were the creatures. The parasites!

“What is that?” Calvin asked her calmly.

“A God.”

“What type?”

“A space deity,” she said plainly.

“Do you have one of those things inside you too?”

She looked up at him then, smiling, “They are a gift.”

She opened up her blouse and he saw the creatures press itself against the cover of her skin.

“They make us immortal,” she said, “Who can ask for a greater gift?”

“I don’t know—individuality? Not being a host for a fucking bug!”

“HOW DARE YOU!” she screamed, it was the first time he ever saw anger on her face. She slapped him, her nail cutting his face and leaving a trail of blood.

“None of you are even human anymore. You are monsters.”

“We have evolved, primitive. You are the Betrayer! You are the one the shaman warned us about months ago! I should have known it would be you! You are the traveler riding on a pale horse, you are the dark rider.”

She pulled out a large knitting needle then that had to be at least ten inches long. She rushed towards him. He avoided her lunge and swung her across the room. She hit her head on the side of a homemade oak desk. The sharp edge cut her forehead and she bleed.

Oh god, he thought. What have I done?

Then slowly he moved towards her when suddenly he saw the thing crawling out of her throat up through her throat. It used it’s white gangly forearms to pry open her lips and he watched as it squeeze it’s fat body up out of her belly to her throat. It looked like a tumor writhing.

Her neck became swollen and bulbous. He picked up the knitting needle off the ground. The parasite had five beady black eyes that stared at him with a deep penetrating preciseness. It emerged from her, drenched in saliva and stomach acids and a smattering of blood. Swiftly it skittered towards him and jumped. Just as it propelled itself towards his face, he held out the needle and watched the creature impale itself.

It let out a horrible cry so loud that it seemed to pierce his eardrums.

The sound rang throughout the entire village, alerting everyone to his misdeed. He was sure the creatures spoke a language of their own and when they were angry who said they couldn’t just take over the body of their hosts for their own uses. That was when he heard the angry, guttural cries of the villagers. He needed a distraction, he grabbed the torch that hung in front of the hut and he lit the walls of the hut on fire.

Then he ran.

People were screaming now, alarmed by the fire and the death of one of their saviors. Calvin bet that fire was probably the only thing that slowed them down. In the moonlight as he ran towards the woods, he saw the glint of axes and blades that the villagers had gathered to kill him with. He felt like Frankenstein’s monster then in an old black ‘n’ white horror film. Except everyone else were the monsters.

He only had one choice, escape.

He ran through the woods as fast as he could to the cavern that Edic had showed him when they both had been on friendlier terms. With any luck one of the ships they had used to rescue him with was still there. Although advances had been made in technology since his time, he was sure he could figure out the controls. He had to.

He slipped into the cavern and found the counsel where the uplinks to the satellites were. Using a few of his more criminal skills his famous father had taught him, he hacked his way into the system mainframe and sealed the entrance to the cave. Ok, one problem solved, he thought, now to search for the spacecrafts. One of the cameras at a side station showed the villagers outside with their torches and weapons trying to pry open the metallic doors to the cave.

Not even an axe will do it, you morons. This is a state of the art facility.

Searching…the computer read.

He waited.

Then suddenly an image of a spacecraft appeared on screen. It said it was three corridors down to the right shaft then a quick left to portal 9. It was still fully operational.

“You just couldn’t be happy, could you?” a voice said behind him, “You are so arrogant. You just assume they are using us. We made an agreement. It’s a choice! Who are you to decide what is wrong, you ape?!”

It was Edic.

“Look, I just want to go,” Calvin said, “I will find my own way in the galaxy. This isn’t my world anymore.”

“What do you think you will find out there, xenophobe? Peace, is that it? You had it right here, you fool and you rejected it like a spoiled child! You are a monkey. Evolution’s bare ass. A relic that must be destroyed. We will pursue you to the ends of the universe if we have to, you will never get away from us!”

“Then you leave me no choice,” Calvin said, “I’ll have to kill you all.”

He turned to the computer, “Initiate self-destruct sequence.”

The thing known as Edic unleashed an unholy shriek then like Lyandra had and rushed towards him.

The computer spoke: Self-destruct sequence initiated in T-minus five minutes and forty two seconds. Charges loading.

Edic grabbed Calvin by the throat and began to crush his windpipe. The man who Calvin had once trusted as his guide had now become his enemy. Edic’s pupils were a pure milky white; there was nothing human about him anymore. The parasite owned this man. Calvin pulled the knitting needle out from behind his back where he had stored it after stabbing Lyandra’s parasite.

He stabbed the Edic-thing through the eye.

First the man died then the disease inside him, both letting out their own individual death rattles.

T-minus three minutes, twelve seconds.

He ran down the corridor.

Right then left or was it a left then a right?

The villagers outside had devised a way to break through the barrier. They brought the village shaman who held a strange metallic device called a prong and jammed it into the control panel near the door. A few hundred volts of electricity ran through him, all absorbed by the thing within him and the door to the cave suddenly slid open. Everyone ran inside.

They piled in one after another. Axes, knifes and torches in tow.

T-minus two minutes and counting.

Calvin went down the wrong corridor and had to backtrack to the ship. It was exquisite, everything he imagined it to be. It stood at least eighty feet tall and sixty feet wide. It was a deluxe cruiser. Families could live in this.

It was the luxury liner of the universe.

He pulled open the welcome hatch and closed the door behind him.

Now to work the controls.

As soon as the villagers heard the execution sequence, they began screaming and hacking at the counsel wildly at the control modules that they had no idea how to operate. When they saw Edic dead and his yahweth dead on the ground, they broke into fresh cries of anguish. Some of the villagers ran up to the surface in fear.

One minute, twenty-three seconds—

Calvin fired up the engine and tired to manage the controls. They looked completely alien to him. There was a tutorial guide but he had no time for that.

“Activate auto-pilot sequence.”

Auto-pilot activated, the ship said.

“Fly, goddamnit! FLY!”

The control panel lit up then and the ship prepared to launch.

The ground underneath the forest opened up, knocking a few trees out of the earth. The spacecraft fired up and prepared to launch.

Set coordinates, the auto-pilot said.

“I don’t care! Just leave earth!”

A few of the villagers stumbled down the corridor to the space craft.

They tried to hack at the sides of the ship which were impenetrable.

A few of the lehweth squealed and plunged out of their host’s chests tearing them apart in sheer desperation. The hosts died instantly.

Survival of the fittest, in the end all things wanted to live.

Twenty seconds.

The spacecraft blasted off into the sky racing at light speed.

Below him the temple became a tiny brown dot then a huge sonic boom of an explosion that wiped out the last remnants of the human race.

Not even a cunning yahweth could survive a fireball that size. He only hoped that the cavern of the synthetic flesh had been burned in the fire also. Those living dead things deserved to be put out of their misery.

A few seconds later, Calvin felt the ship hit the Earth’s atmosphere and pull free of its tug. Now I’m free, he thought, staring out at the blackened void of space lit by tiny decimals of stars.

Later he would discover an entire kitchen pantry of space foods that would last a twelve man crew fifty years. There was also a wreck room on the ship full of entertainment. Video tapes and even an old arcade game from his day. All the semblances of life aboard one ship.

A dark calm came over him now as he bid goodbye to the planet of his upbringing. Maybe there was life elsewhere, he thought, maybe some people did survive the holocaust and are coasting through space just as I am. Or perhaps he could find some form of alien life that didn’t use humans as hosts.

If worse came to worse, he could search for another wormhole and pray it took him back in time to his own day, to a world he recognized.

With these thoughts and a thousand more, Calvin Maxwell, son of a famous space explorer wandered through the depths of outer space looking infinitely for a space to call home.

THE END

Copyright © 2007 by Daniel William Gonzales.

Daniel William Gonzales is a 29 year old college student with a Bachelors in Psychology who is currently working on his Masters in Adult Education. He currently works as associate manager of Barnes and Noble and part-time as a student guidance counselor at a local high school.

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