by Jennifer Leeper
Cyrus Birch stared into the hybrid blue of Solla's eyes. Cyrus's
eyes were the same blue as hers, shadowed by dark features, but made
crisper in hue by an angular jaw and cheekbones. For Cyrus, the
wolf-dog was a necessary reminder of the genetic gap between humans and
animals. Besides Solla, the only other reminder was his grandfather's
stories of his childhood, when men were still men and beasts were
beasts. In those days, the concept of a hybrid species meant a dog like
Solla, not a man with the digestive tract of a goat, or the eyesight of
Cyrus and Solla had moved around nomadically for the past five
years, subsisting through hunting and fishing. The cities and the wild
both posed their challenges, so in order to survive in both
environments, Cyrus made sure he spent plenty of time sleeping under
the stars as well as underneath a sky of glass and steel. Cyrus and
Solla traveled lightly and Cyrus had learned from Solla how to creep up
stealthily on prey. Cyrus always laughed to himself that he didn't need
hybrid DNA because he had already become part wolf-dog in his hunting
For those like Cyrus, who wanted nothing to do with genetic
alterations, the only option was to keep moving around, and stay out of
the cities, which, although primarily abandoned by hybrid humans for
their new habitats of forest, jungle and ocean, were still dangerous
places to be if one was a pure human. The cities were dumping sites for
both reject hybrids and humans who chose not to conform to government
genetic regulations. These two groups fought to their bloody deaths in
old boxing rings, for the entertainment of powerful, affluent hybrid
Until very recently, Cyrus and Solla were aimless, only subsisting
day-to-day, but a recent shortwave radio report announced a safe zone
for pure humans in Mongolia, which might as well have been another
planet, except that a ship was supposed to be leaving Seattle for Asia
in exactly two weeks. Seattle felt like Mongolia for Cyrus, who had
finally approached the northern border of New Mexico. Las Animas County
lay before him. 'Las Animas' meant 'The Souls', Cyrus recalled from his
childhood of hiking into Colorado with his father, who had minored in
philosophy and always emphasized the 'eternal material' within Man, as
he referred to it. Cyrus wondered whether that eternal material had
been tampered with in the hybrid humans so ubiquitous these days.
"Well, girl, we're crossing over." Cyrus straddled the border,
eliciting a whine from Solla, who had always acutely sensed undesirable
changes in the eyes of her owner.
Cyrus was worried about covering the miles to Seattle on foot. He
wouldn't make it to Seattle in time. He would have to travel through
parts of several states. Since many hybrid humans didn't need to drive,
the auto industry had become non-existent. Pure humans had not
maintained their cars over the years because they attracted too much
attention as a mode of transportation. Instead, like Cyrus, they lived
in more rural areas or in the wilderness, relying on their own two feet
for commuting. They hunted for their daily bread and some even
fashioned entire wardrobes out of animal skins. Ironically, they had
been reconditioned to live the way the government never thought they
could without genetic help. So, there were cars, trucks and other
vehicles rusting all over the country.
There was only one option.
There were tales of men out west whose pioneering spirit was said to
evoke that of those who once clamored for the gold of California and
Alaska. These men built dune buggies that rushed across deserts and
prairies in the deepest dark of the night.
* * *
Cyrus had plenty to trade for a ride up north. He had hunting
weapons and outdoor supplies and equipment, which would surely broker a
deal for a ride, as scarce as these items were these days.
He had heard that the buggy operators met periodically to swap tales
of encountering nightmarish creatures who resembled humans, but whose
humanity was highly questionable. He would have to pull the ear of Gus
Stone, a former car mechanic from Santa Fe, who had moved to Colorado.
Gus was a pure human and a former friend of Cyrus's deceased parents.
Cyrus's parents sacrificed themselves for their 14-year-old boy, who
fled his parents' cabin in the mountains of Santa Fe, while his parents
were arrested for their pure DNA and sent to the death matches of
Chicago, where they were forced to fight with hybrid humans, who had
been grotesquely disfigured through genetic alteration surgeries gone
awry. The death matches served to entertain the upper classes of hybrid
humans, whose wealth had allowed them to maintain beauty and glamour
through additional, extreme genetic alteration.
Gus cared for Cyrus after his parents were taken.
Cyrus found Gus' new garage at last. Cyrus had only visited the new
location a couple of times, and it was even more remotely located than
Gus's old garage, which he had built in one of the hundreds of ghost
towns in the Santa Fe desert. The new garage was under-ground.
"Cy! How are you, boy? It's been too long this time." As crusty as
Gus was in appearance, he was a softie underneath, especially when it
came to Cyrus. The old man hugged the much younger man and patted Solla
on the head. "She gets more beautiful every day." The old man's eyes
reflected the simple joy in Solla's eyes.
"You definitely save on A/C down here," Cyrus grinned.
The old man nodded, smiling. Everything about the man was grey and
white. It had been as long as Cyrus could remember. He had a thick,
bushy beard, but maintained a close shave on his head.
"You look thin. So does Solla." Gus prompted the canine to put her
paws up on his knees. Solla happily obliged and wagged her tail with a
"We're getting along, but I do need a favor. I'm not sure it's something you can arrange."
"You're going up there, aren't you?" Gus pointed to a dusty radio nearby.
"You need a buggy?"
"They exist, then?"
"They do, but, I only know one operator and he's hard pressed to
take on passengers." Cyrus continued spoiling Solla with affection. "He
does owe me. Fixed his suspension at no charge. I'll get in touch with
"Thanks, Gus. I brought you a few things." The old man smiled. "I
don't need things at my age. You keep your bows and arrows, Robin
Gus brought out a bottle of whiskey and poured a tumbler full for
himself and for Cyrus. The men drank and grew warm with memories from
Gus' childhood before men and jackrabbits were one in the same. They
fell asleep to the sound of Solla's breezy snoring and a crackly
version of an old, country song about the way things used to be.
Cyrus awoke to the smell of bacon frying and the sound of eggs
hissing in grease. "I remember when you used to do this for me every
day." Cyrus snatched a strip of bacon from the pan.
"You were such a scrawny kid, and look at you now." Gus wiped
something out of his eyes as he spoke. Cyrus suspected it wasn't hot
"Yeah, well you fed me too well."
* * *
"Well, anyway, I got you a ride. He's a former engineer. Used to
design bridges. Now, he just designs machines that lead to nowhere
considering the state of the world, but he is headed up to Portland to
trade out some parts. You'll leave here tonight."
"Thanks, Gus. You won't come with us?"
Gus pulled lightly at his beard as if pursuing the consideration,
but he almost immediately shook his head. "I'm too old for such
adventures. It's quiet here. I need quiet now."
Cyrus knew he would never see Gus again once he left.
Gus and Cyrus made the most of their time together, taking Solla for
a long walk, and talking about the days before the world went mad.
"I remember hearing about Dr. Rosen's suicide. The government
wouldn't leave him alone. He was depressed and alcoholic, but, they
kept pressuring him to keep fiddling with our genetics. The world was
desperate for a solution—any solution—after the economic collapse.
Eventually, he was useless, but by then the government had their
trained minions who botched Rosen's original science. They found the
man hanged in his own lab." Gus shook his head. "You know it was a dog
shelter in Baltimore that inspired the whole thing."
"That's where Rosen got the idea. The shelter manager got the idea
to recondition the dogs to survive in the wild, and then released them.
Simple idea. It caught on everywhere. It definitely cut down on stray
cats and dogs. Rosen just translated the idea to genetics."
"Yeah, I remember reading where Rosen only enhanced or altered one
or maybe two senses, like the sight or smell." Cyrus thought of how the
latest extrapolations from Rosen's innovation hovered in some horrific
limbo between human and non-human. They did not belong to Nature, and,
for those, like Cyrus' parents, who refused to undergo genetic
alterations, they were doomed to their fate of blood sport with those
less than appealing chimeras, disfigured by surgeons and geneticists
churning out hybrids efficiently to meet government quotas.
It was a production pace too ambitious for a science still in its
infancy. The government, having been reduced to a mechanism of
propaganda, singularly served its new utilitarian purpose to relieve
the human strain on urban and suburban infrastructures, and return
mankind to a more primitive existence. Unfortunately, the poor were
still poor and the rich were still floated by them. The poor had become
the lower-order hybrids and the affluent bought their way into the top
tier of the hybrid world, mingling their DNA with the genetic codes of
lions and wolverines and chimpanzees, while the poor were relegated to
the status of rodentia
in many cases. The economically privileged were able to hire
geneticists and plastic surgeons to work in concert to create their
glamorous hybrid selves. The wealthier hybrids had established
exclusive wilderness communities that were gated off from the rest of
Affluent hybrids only returned to the cities to see pure humans torn
apart in sport. Oftentimes, the defending champions in these matches
had been so badly disfigured, they yearned to fight and destroy any
other living thing out of anger and resentment over their genetic
As usual, nothing had changed but the packaging even though so many
were convinced otherwise. Perhaps human nature hadn't been altered that
much after all, Cyrus mused.
"I don't miss the police state, but at least I knew I would be shot
or beaten by another man. Now, my own imagination may as well kill me
considering the stories I've heard about what might be roaming around
out there." Gus' face seemed to grow more tired as he spoke.
"So, you've never seen one up close?"
"And, I hope I never do."
Cyrus eyes widened with incredulity. He was envious of the old man.
He had somehow man-aged to preserve some facet of his ignorance under
* * *
Night gathered in the sights and sounds of day. Cyrus and Gus could
feel time bearing on them. They reached Gus' subterranean home and Gus
cooked dinner. The men ate in silence. A small thud from above
interrupted the meal.
"That'll be him." Gus swallowed his last bite and climbed up the
ladder to his front door. He was in agile shape for a man in his early
70s. He returned without his guest.
"It's time. You have everything?"
"Well, we'll see." Cyrus smiled at his old friend and hugged him. "Thank you. For everything."
The old man cleared his throat with a grumble, his eyes wet and shiny.
"Don't come back here, Cy. Don't ever come back."
"I promise." Cyrus barely got the words out. His throat tried to tighten around them as they slipped out.
Cyrus and Solla hopped into the back compartment of the purple and
black buggy waiting for them. Cyrus shook the hand of the driver who
sported a long, white braided ponytail hanging down his back and
spectacles resting on his birdlike face. He was definitely entirely
human. The contraption took off with much more gusto than Cyrus had
expected. Before Cyrus knew it, the buggy had reached the seemingly
endless vacancy of the southern Colorado desert lands.
"So, you're leaving all this behind, eh?" The operator, a man named
Vincent Russo, spoke without turning around, the rushing wind carrying
"What's left to leave?"
Cyrus heard the operator's grim laughter. "Well, I want to go out fighting, or at least driving, in my case."
"I get it, but, I'm tired of seeing what's happening to this world.
It may seem like I'm running away, but I'm hoping that I'm running
toward a solution. I'm hoping the others I'm running with feel the same
Vincent didn't respond for a moment and Cyrus wondered if he had even been heard.
"And, what if they don't feel the same way? What if they are no
different than the humans from some bygone era that you seem to
idealize so much who got us into this mess in the first place?"
"You're somewhat of a cynic when it comes to people, aren't you?"
"I'd rather tinker with machines. People are more predictable, but
that's the problem right there, and, I can't fix them like I can fix a
machine. This machine here? I built it. Those machines out there? They
never had a chance."
"What have you seen?"
Though he didn't say the word with relish, there was a certain covetousness of its meaning in the operator's tone.
"Me too." Cyrus said with less enthusiasm.
Cyrus had seen a lot roaming the landscapes of New Mexico, where
hybrids, pure beasts and pure humans inevitably clashed in trees, caves
and streams. He had been lucky enough to avoid any mortal injuries, but
he had scars to remind him of this luck.
The buggy put Colorado and much of Utah behind it before twilight.
As they neared the Nevada border, the men decided to get some sleep.
They found a cave that appeared to be uninhabited and disappeared with
the buggy into the darkness. The two men slept in shifts, and ate the
lunch and dinner Gus packed for them. Solla followed his meals by
curling up next to the men's conversation as if it were a warm fire.
"So, how many of those have you built?" Cyrus asked as the men were
finishing up dinner and preparing to depart for a second night of
"Half a dozen, but, this one is my favorite."
"Why is that?"
"Protected me from an attack."
"What attacked you?"
Vincent laughed, his brown, leathery face crinkling like heavy paper.
"You expect me to tell you something that should called a peacockaphantceros tried to tear me up, right?"
"It was just a mountain lion, about a year ago. I was in Nevada, and
decided to take a night hike. Poor thing was actually half blind for
whatever reason. I wouldn't be surprised if some half-breed of human
blinded it in a sloppy bid for dinner. These hybrids are still too
human for their own good or anyone else's. Anyway, I took shelter under
this thing and the lion moved on eventually. It was as good as a cage
"Are you sure the mountain lion wasn't the hybrid and still had the eyesight of some 65-year-old human with glaucoma?"
"Well, at least you've managed to keep your humor."
The men started out again, passing into Nevada and reaching the outskirts of Portland by mid-morning.
* * *
"I usually don't travel during the day, but we were close enough, so I pushed it."
"Well, I guess this is where we part ways."
"Looks like it," Cyrus offered his favorite bow and arrow set to the engineer even though the operator had asked for nothing.
"Looks like I'll need to sign up for an archery course."
"Just watch out for those blind mountain lions."
"Take care of yourself."
Vincent sped away, leaving Cyrus and Solla to survey their new
surroundings, which was a tall field that had grown over an abandoned
It was nearly afternoon.
"Hungry, girl?" Solla's ears perked up in response.
Cyrus and Solla decided to take a short nap in the weeds before
beginning their long trek, hoping they would be well concealed. Seattle
could be reached within a week, Cyrus thought. It was a couple of
hundred miles. It would be close, but he and Solla would make it.
Cyrus closed his eyes and Solla's mild snoring and warm belly
against his bare feet delivered Cyrus easily to a dream of his parents
and the cabin his father had built, where he had spent his early
childhood. He could see the sunset climbing the sky behind their
mountain. Once the sunset went down it was cold and Cyrus felt himself
shivering, or maybe he was shaking…no, he was struggling, but against
what? He woke up thrashing in the arms of something that was less than
human. Its face had been reconstructed to look like a bear in its
general composition, but where there should have been hair, there was
smooth flesh, and, the ears were disproportionately large for the ears
of a black bear, which is presumably the look this creature was going
for, or that was the look this hybrid had been assigned. The body was
permanently hunched like a bear, and its strength was certainly beyond
that of a human.
Cyrus was a strong man with youth on his side, but he was only
human. He called out for Solla, but Solla was nowhere to be seen. Solla
had run off before where there was danger, but she always returned to
Cyrus when he most needed her. Most likely she had sized up the bear
and realized she was no match, so she would be somewhere nearby waiting
for any opening to rescue her master. Cyrus was now clamped between two
paws that were disproportionately large for the body to which they were
attached. Cyrus couldn't budge an inch. He decided to yield for the
moment, saving his strength. After all, when he had confronted bears in
the woods, he had never tried to fight them, so he wasn't about to
fight something that resembled a bear, even if there was still some
humanness behind the glassy brown eyes.
* * *
Cyrus knew where he was being taken. This hybrid would get a price
for his head and he would wind up fighting some thing that would be
even more deformed and pathetic. The strange bear carried Cyrus several
miles to the center of Portland, to an old warehouse that had been
transformed into an entertainment venue.
The bear creature handed Cyrus over to a roaring crowd of hybrids
with iridescent wings surgically attached to the backs of cheetah women
and elephant heads on human bodies with four arms. The wealthy were not
only making themselves into animals, but into Hindu gods.
A creature with the head of a rhinoceros and the body of a man
dumped Cyrus into the ring, which was covered with blood from previous
matches. Cyrus cringed at the smell, but, he should have saved his
disgust for the creature that stood, or more accurately slithered
across from him. He expected to feel pity for the hybrid he was
supposed to slaughter. Unfortunately, the sickly, yellowish reptilian
creature flicking its tongue at him showed no signs that it was ever
human, except for the eyes. Unfortunately, though the eyes were human
in shape and structure, their color was as black as an opal and hate
seemed to concentrate in this blackness.
Cyrus was relieved, but his relief was replaced by fear when a bell
rang and the creature's tongue wrapped easily around his neck. It was
one big muscle. The creature pulled his victim to him, and rose up in
the air to reveal his actual height of more than seven feet tall. Cyrus
had been stripped of all weapons, even his pocketknife. He was helpless
and oxygen was leaving his brain at a much faster rate than it could be
replaced. He felt himself passing out.
Suddenly, he was released and hit the bloody floor of the ring with
a thud. The reptilian tongue lay dismembered next to him, flopping
around in a few more lightening strikes of nerve activity before it lay
gruesomely still. Cyrus looked up to find Solla with the broken neck of
the creature limply hanging from between her teeth. Solla was fast, and
no one would have noticed or cared about a pure beast, especially a
domesticated one, prowling about the grounds.
The crowd roared indignantly over the death of what was presumably
one of their favorite hybrid champions. They screamed for a rematch
with a new hybrid. Solla had already dropped the lifeless body of the
lizard-like organism, whose human eyes were no less empty in death.
This was to be pitied, Cyrus thought, but, there was no time for
emotion as the crowd rushed the ring. Cyrus had heard of such erratic
mob behaviors among the hybrids, whose human and animal natures
together were a volatile combination. Cyrus and Solla were able to
sneak out in the chaos, as the hybrids were turning on one another,
challenging each other to their own battles in the ring.
* * *
Cyrus and Solla ran until they couldn't see city lights. They found
a junkyard, where they spent the night in an old, luxury car. The next
morning they started walking toward Seattle. The pair remained close to
main roads as much as they could, surviving off rabbit and squirrel
meat. They slept little, and barely made it in time to board the ship
headed to an uninhabited island just off the coast of Japan, where a
small plane was waiting to take Cyrus and about 50 others to Mongolia.
The plane landed in Bayanhongor, where a group of pure humans had set
up a tent colony.
Cyrus had never seen so many pure humans in one place. There were
men, women and children from all over the world, it appeared. He saw no
"Girl, we made it." Cyrus nuzzled his nose against the top of Solla's nose, her tail wagging furiously with delight.
Sensing an itch, Cyrus touched the back of his neck and felt
strange, coarse hair growing. He noticed the same on the neck of a
woman who passed and on the face of a man who wandered by. He felt
groggy, dizzy and sick. Maybe it was something he had eaten on the
plane, or had he slept during the flight? Before he passed out, Cyrus
sensed Solla approaching, but she growled at him, whined and ran away.
This was not another world. It was another experiment and they had
all fallen for it. What he would wake up as tomorrow, he couldn't
guess. He hoped they would at least let him keep his mother's blue
© 2016 Jennifer Leeper
Bio: Ms. Leeper is an award-winning fiction author who's publications credits include Independent Ink
Magazine, Notes Magazine, The Stone Hobo, Poiesis, Every Day Fiction, and The Liguorian. She has had works published or are in the process of publication by J. Burrage Publications, Hen
House Press, Alternating
Current Press, Barking Rain Press, Whispering Prairie Press, BarkingRain Press, and Spider Road Press. In 2012, Ms. Leeper was awarded the Catoctin Mountain
Artist-in-Residency, and in 2013, Ms. Leeper was a Tuscany Prize
Novella Award finalist through Tuscany Press for her short novel,
Tribe. Ms. Leeper's short story "Tatau," was published in the journal, Poiesis, and was short listed as a
finalist for the Luminaire Award in 2015, and nominated by Alternating
Current for Queen's Ferry Press' Best of Small Fictions of 2016 Prize. Ms.
Leeper's short story, "The Gospel of Chloride," won a 2015 Tuscany Short
Story Award honorable mention through Tuscany Press. In 2016, The Saturday Evening Post honored
Ms. Leeper's short story "Book of the Dead" with an honorable mention in
its Great American Fiction Contest.
E-mail: Jennifer Leeper
Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum
Return to Aphelion's Index page.