The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Worlds of Ruin: A Literary Celebration of Apocalyptic Science Fiction. Please enjoy.
The Year, 2089.
The location, former Los Angeles Times Office building, 1300 meters from Ground Zero of the first nuclear event.
Kal was sitting at his new desk, flipping through the pages of an old, mostly illegible magazine. He needed inspiration for his new article and figured he would try reading up on something more contemporary than he had been accustomed to.
“1989” A voice behind Kal casually spoke, startling him slightly.
In a singular motion, Kal spun around in his barely working swivel chair and cocked his antique Remington Model 31 shotgun.
“Correction, 1958, as in the year that this gun was made.” Kal spoke in a low tenor. “What are you doing here Red? And I’m only asking once.” He aimed squarely at the man he was now facing, his own hands holding the weapon in a surprisingly steady fashion.
“Easy there cowboy, just makin’ an observation. Look, let me show you something…” Red was making a motion to kneel. “Can I?”
Red was a man who was built for the lifestyle that current circumstances now imposed on the every-man. His cowhide kevlar composite armor was custom made and attached his body like a stray gnat to a horse’s ass. He had 4 guns, 3 knives, 2 grenades, and a machete attached to his person. He was as hard as they come, yet he was smart enough to know he couldn’t take a shotgun slug to the head. He slowly raised his hands to demonstrate to Kal that he posed no threat.
Kal glared at Red untrustingly. “You try anything funny, it’ll be the last thing you try.”
“Kal, come on, you know you have me at a disadvantage. I just want to help, is all…”
Kal cocked the gun again for good measure. “Yeah? I don’t need you kind of help, pal. Remember New Castle? Joshua trusted you, and now he’s six feet under.”
Red stepped closer to Kal, full knowing that Kal had no sympathy for him. “New Castle wasn’t all my fault. But I’m sure this will go a small ways in making up for it.” Red knelt over with Kal keeping the barrel pointed at the same level, as his body was lowering. Red keeping his eyes on Kal removed some rubble from the floor of the destroyed office space. Underneath the debris was a skeletal hand, grasping what appeared to be another worn out magazine. Red pried the magazine from the remains, raised his own body and then tossed it on the desk, in front of Kal.
“What…what is this?” Kal said, in an increasingly frustrated tone. “You think this is funny. I oughta waste your ass right here, save me the trouble of trying to figure out what kind of game you’re playing.”
Red motioned to him. “Just read it dickhead. Or at least look at the title and the date. Then talk to me again.” Kal looked down at the magazine. It was still rolled up and Red knew Kal didn’t trust him enough to take his gun-sight off of him. “You open it”.
Red stepped back. “What’s the matter Kal. You balls shrunk that small, that you can’t open a magazine without crapping yer pants?”
Kal cocked the gun yet again. “Listen here maggot. Right now, I am your padre. And you’ll do what I tell you, or you’ll die. I’ll give you to the count of 3 to open the magazine. If you don’t do it, or I don’t like what I see, then your brains and probably some of the remainder of your torso will be repainting the walls in this room. So…”
Red laughed, unflinchingly. “Suit yourself.” Red approached the desk.
“Slowly!” Kal yelled. Red slowed his pace until he reached the desk and picked up the magazine. He dusted it off for Kal and unrolled it as he held it up. The title was Forbes, the year was 2056. “Happy?”
Kal slightly lowered the gun, his eyes growing wider with disbelief. He shook it off and raised the gun back up. “This…this is some kind of joke. Are you tryin’ to mess with me? Did you plant this thing here?”
“This is for real Kal, scan it.” Red said, deadly serious. Kal hesitated for a few moments, but eventually reached for the scanner in his pocket. It was a tiny spherical device, with the word “Divination” superimposed around its circumference. He held the scanner up to the magazine. A yellow beam emanated from it and swept the surface of the magazine cover for a few seconds. The word changed from “Divination” to “Processing” and then finally from “Processing” to “Match”.
“Hijo de Puta! I don’t believe it. This is real! How…did you know it was here? And moreover…” Kal waved the shotgun in Red’s face “Why didn’t you take it for yourself? You could probably snag a sweet payout from the right low-life scumbag.”
Red lowered his hands and removed his 10 gallon Stetson. “Because I want you to have it.”
“Why me?” Kal asked nervously.
“Because the world, or what’s left of it needs to know the truth. The survivors need to know why the planet has been reduced to ash. The real reason.” Red spoke solemnly. “There’s no-one I know of and likely no-one else alive who has such a passion for the literary arts as you. Even in these dark times you continue to write. You continue to publish. You continue to strive in your pursuit of knowledge. You my friend, can be the one to bring us all back to the light of reason. The Editor and Chief they should call you.”
Kal lowered his weapon. “Well yes, I suppose if anyone were to be to be able to usher in a new age of Enlightenment, it would be me. But…but besides the existential, humanistic mumbo jumbo, what’s in it for you? You’re a raider, a brigand. You live off the land, and people’s misfortunes. Do you think in a new and enlightened world, you’d have a place? Would you be able to live in the shadow of Giants such as myself? You’d have to get used to the idea of an honest day’s work.”
Red smiled. “And this isn’t honest work?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Giving hope to humanity? You ought to give me more credit.”
Kal put his fingers to his chin trying to figure out whether to trust Red, the man who got his friend Joshua killed. He put his weapon on the table and reached for the magazine. He picked it up and flipped to page 56, the page that supposedly contained the Prophecy of the Fall of Man — it was all there. “Red, what do you know of literature, a thug such as yourself?”
Red chuckled. “Well I don’t read much, but I am a fan of literary quotations.”
Kal smirked. “How base. What’s your favorite one?”
Red’s expression darkened. “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Before Kal could react, Red grabbed a pen off the desk and deftly shoved it into Kal’s eye. Kal instantly grabbed at it, a fountain of blood gushing from the wound. “My eye!” screamed Kal.
Red grabbed Kal by the collar while he was distracted and reached into his pocket. He forcefully pulled out the Divination Sphere and put it into his own satchel. “You know another quote I like, which applies to Giants such as yourself? The bigger they are…”
In one motion Red flung the screaming Kal’s body through the nearest window. He plummeted down several stories from the top of the ruined skyscraper until he finally hit the ground. His body splattered into a bloody mess of guts and destroyed organs, as Red watched from up above.
“Well, you know the rest…” said Red, knowingly.