Trillers (Part 2)

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Josiah Neuwirth looked out over his land. It had been another good day and the harvest this year would be sure to see his family through the winter. The previous year had seen tremendous snowfall, Josiah and his wife May had lost the youngest of their four children to hunger and prayed that God would stay his hand with the other three this year.
The sun began to set, Josiah heard May calling him to eat and he started off down the hill to the farmhouse. As he made his first steps he was stopped in his tracks. In the distant woods struck a clear blue line of lightning.

If a fire started in the woods it might spread to the crops, he quickly got some water from the rain barrel, grabbed a sack to beat the ground with, and ran off into the woods.

Upon his arrival, there was no fire, in fact no sign that a lightning strike had happened at all. He smelt no smoke on the air and, scratching his head in confusion, turned back to the house and was stopped there. In front of him stood a bizarre looking man, smiling. His clothes were not known to him, his skin was clean, perhaps a foreign dignitary? He had no time to consider more. The man stopped smiling, stepped towards Josiah and calmly stuck a knife into his throat.

Gurgling on the blood, Josiah fell to his knees as the stranger stabbed him again, and again, and again. Calmly, the man wiped the blade on a pocket handkerchief, put it into a side bag, and walked off into the woods, leaving Josiah’s body to be discovered by his wife a few hours later.

The town gathered together in the square and Josiah’s body was carried into a nearby house for examination by a representative of the Governor’s office. It was the first violent death in the town since the French and Indian War and the event was sketched for the local records. It was this image that was seen, almost four hundred years later, by the researchers at TEID.
The picture was not exceptional but for one thing: in among the crowd stood a man quite unlike the others. There, clearly with mid-22nd century attire, was Gerald Key.

Gerald was known to the authorities as a killer with a long and seemingly random history of attacks and slayings and then, all of a sudden, he wasn’t. Gerald had always hated his parents and, after bouncing around through time killing as randomly as he ever had, he then took his final trip to kill them when they had first met when young.  He pointed a gun towards them as they kissed, both were instantly killed and, just as quickly, Gerald disappeared. He would never exist, his crimes would never be know as they had never happened. It was the perfect crime.

Only luck and chance ensured that the machines still existed, and the time machines flew in and out of the past causing havoc, appearing to farmers in the midwest of the 1940’s who now reported seeing UFO’s. The spinning arrival of the machines lead to massive unexplained circles appearing in crops all over the globe, but this was the least of the problems, the biggest problem lay in the people that would follow in Gerald’s wake, despite their never having known about him. They were the Trillers.

Picture by Christian Meyn

Trillers (Part 1)

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By the mid-22nd century, time travel had become a mundane and everyday reality. When the phenomenon had first been introduced to the mass consciousness due to a theft of documents by a government employee, massive steps had been proposed to limit the possibly detrimental effects of what would likely become a hugely popular social pastime. An international committee, after much deliberation and the investment of a great deal of working hours and taxpayers money, eventually decided on three rules of time travel:

1) Do nothing to affect the social development of the people of the time
2) Do nothing to deliberately invoke a change to events in the future, particularly for perceived personal gain
3) Behave with no emotion as emotion breeds emotion in others and so can affect events

As soon as the committee announced these rules to an eagerly listening world, researchers at TEID (Time Effect Investigation Department, a team set up to monitor the behaviour of it’s citizens by researching past documents) began to find that the rules weren’t perhaps as effective as they had hoped. Time travelling citizens trying to behave without emotion were being viewed with high suspicion in Nazi Germany, the witch hunting eras of the late 17th century and the vampire fearing villages of mediaeval Slavic Europe. All of these unfortunate souls were being summarily tortured, executed, and were failing to return home from their trips.
They also found it impossible to not affect social development as travellers ended up in the bars and public houses of times throughout history, invariably became drunk and opinionated, and ended up either instigating or, in some exceptional cases, getting a little carried away and leading entire revolutionary movements.

Lastly, it was quickly realised that it was impossible to not have an affect on future events as a whole anyway as the person’s mere arrival and subsequent existence in the past occupied space and therefore had instigated a change by just moving the air particles, anything over and above that would cause a more obvious chain reaction (such as stopping traffic at a road crossing or feeding an animal) and so it was deemed impossible to enforce any of the laws they had worked so tirelessly to create.
At this point a press conference was set up to announce this failure, one journalist pointed out the impossibility of enforcing such laws due to the nature of time travel anyway and, after a lot of silence and shoe gazing, the scientists and international representatives decided to disband and research something that could be controlled instead, with no doubt at all, such as wormhole leaping.

Despite the best efforts of authorities to restrict the sale of time travel machines, a huge black market was predicted, then materialised, and then once one particuarly entrepreneurial individual, Jiff Beaner, had gone three hundred years into the future and bought not only all the books on the history of time travel so as to learn all the industrial lessons of his competitiors to come, but also returning in a much bigger time machine with (after a few trips) parts enough for a time machine manufacturing unit from the future as well, mass production kicked into play and the time machine was now in 63% of all households by the end of the first manufacturing year alone. Naturally, Jiff was soon outdone by another who carried out exactly the same plan as Jiff had and outdid him overnight. Not only did the competitor have all of Jiff’s ideas for the next three hundred years but he also had a manufacturing unit three hundred years newer. Then someone outdid that man, and so it went on ad taedium.

Time Travel became a standard leisure activity, people beamed from here to there, and the world continued (as far as they knew) the same as it always had.

Then, not long afterwards, a researcher at TEID came across something that would change the public’s perspective of time travel completely. It was a man called Gerald Keys, he had travelled to 18th century colonial America, and there for no reason yet apparent, he had killed sombeody.

Photo by usamedeniz

Stone’s Flow

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A short story I wrote this morning:

Out from the mists that surrounded Stone’s Flow rode eight horsemen. At their head was a recruiting sergeant. He called for all men of age to step forwards and to fight for the South. John Blenny was 17 and, with his mother, Hannah, gripping at his arm, he stayed back as he watched his friends and kin gradually step forward over the hours, fetching what belongings they could take, kissed their loved ones goodbye and headed off to fulfill their duty.
As they followed the horses out of the village, the mists swirled and embraced the men one by one, until only a wall of twisting grey remained. The village had been struck by a pox only a year before, brought by a visiting cousin, the children quickly became feverous and, one by one, perished along with some of the menfolk. Two miscarriages had ensured this generation was not to continue and many feared for the future of the settlement. Now the remaining men were being taken away, a final nail in the coffin, it seemed.

The mists stilled. A silence descended on the village, what was there to be said? One by one the womenfolk went back to their homes and duties. John stared out towards the woodland, felt again the tug of his mother’s hand, and went back to the house. The work would not do itself.

Evelyn had known John for always. Everyone in the village of Stone’s Flow knew each other, but Evelyn knew John especially. She had watched him when they played as children, his hair curling up over his collar. She had watched when he first went into the fields with his father and had slipped in the dirt while trying to push the plough. She had watched as he stood by his father’s graveside, the preacher casting handfuls of dirt onto the coffin and John had shed only a single tear. She had watched as he turned into the house instead of going away to fight, and she had been able to breathe again, knowing that for now at least, he would be safe.

Not long afterwards, Hannah was struck by a fever and, despite John’s best efforts, she passed and was buried in the churchyard alongside her husband. Evelyn had stopped by to help with the house during these hard times and, as youngsters do, John and Evelyn grew affectionate for each other. They would have chosen a better time to be together, but decided to see it as a gift from God and were married soon afterwards on John’s eighteenth birthday.

They moved into Evelyn’s house as it had better stabling and decided to sell John’s childhood home as soon as the war was over.
John worked the fields with his horse Firefly while Evelyn kept the house, they had simple needs and wanted for nothing. Each morning Evelyn brought John food and, as she walked away, he never tired of watching her golden hair catch the sunlight, or of her loving look as she smiled over her shoulder at him.

The war, however, still thirsted for more soldiers and, soon enough, now that John was of age he was called up to fight in his local regiment. He gathered what belongings he could, kissed Evelyn goodbye and swore he would return to her, no matter what might pass.

Evelyn stared emotionless as he walked off into the mists, and was gone.

The weeks following were hard. She knew nothing of the fields and, with no men about, the village slowly began to fall into disrepair, but the womenfolk got by.They looked out for each other and nobody wanted for food or warmth. They even set aside enough to have a harvest festival and danced and, for a short while at least, forgot the tragedies that had befallen them.

The next morning, things changed.

A rumbling could be heard from across the hills, a murmur at first, but then loud enough to awaken the villagers and to know that something was coming and, without speaking a word to each other, somehow all new that a testing time was headed their way.
Panic gripped the animals of the village, Firefly particularly kicked and started within his stable, breaking free of the ropes that bound him and smashing threw the doors, he ran out and bolted into the woods away from the sound.
The mists swirled, and in rode a score of battle worn and bloodied union soldiers on horseback. Their uniforms were muddied and their faces wore the emotional badges that only warfare can award. Their eyes had the humanity taken from them, and they would give no pity nor charity to any who crossed their path.
“Sergeant, secure the church and find stabling. Corporal McLellan, fetch supplies from the stores, the rest of you make camp in the churchyard, we’ll stay here and move on in the morning.” The Captain moved slowly and deliberately forwards, he eyed the women as they rushed out to see what was unravelling before them, he saw Evelyn particularly. Her hair caught the early morning sun, her face, although a little swollen from the night’s air, still showed her natural beauty and he noticed, as men of his type were wont to, her figure beneath her night gown, flowing downwards but out over her womanly hips.
He had been among the filth of the battlefield, the ground had run with the blood of his men and the previous years had sapped away any elements of humanity that he might once have had. He could no longer be called a man and cared nothing for other people’s wishes. He was going to take her, no matter what.

As the villagers tried to carry out their normal daily work, the men raided the stores to their own satisfaction, taking all the liquor that had been stored away for Christmas and packing their horses with ammunition and dried goods. They had no intention of recompensing the locals for their losses, and no-one was to ask them for anything as any communication might have brought danger to them all.
It turned out that their caution would only delay, not stay, the inevitable actions of their visitors. As the liquor slowly drained away, so did the men get louder, rowdier, more volatile and unpredictable in their actions. They kicked at the women rushing to their homes from the cattle sheds and laughed as Evelyn, carrying what piglets she could to her home for safekeeping, slipped in the mud and fell to her face to the squeals of the piglets and the drunken soldiers. The captain sat in the churchyard by his tent, bottle in hand, and said nothing. He just stared.

All went to their houses and battered down their hatches in a token attempt to keep themselves safe from danger, but as one o clock in the morning passed, these minor defences would prove their worthlessness. Evelyn was awoken by a shrieking on the far side of the village, and then another in her neighbour’s parlour, continuing to the street. Panic.
She had no time to consider where her rifle might be, the door blew open with a smash and the Captain marched in, bottle in hand, and dragged her off to his tent, and her fate.

Morning. The sun rose and shone threw the mists piercing at any gaps like a probing sword. The soldiers had left before first light. Doors lay open, some off their top hinges. The street was strewn with ripped clothes, drag marks in the mud, broken bottles, traces of blood. Silence hung in the air

There was no point in discussing what had happened, the women walked, broken and drained, back to their homes. Their eyes were soulless, their bodies broken, their spirits crushed and cast aside. This was what war had brought to them.

Village life is regular with a predictable monotony, and this is exactly the routine that the women of Stone’s Flow fell back into. There was no need for meetings, no need to reach out to the world, it would do no good, and who would listen? The world apparently had troubles of it’s own. The war continued, but no news of it reached the village. Their lives descended into the grey.

Two years would go by before the mists would part again, a wanderer returned. Out of the woods walked John, now twenty years old, not just a man but a man of the world. He had fought through as best he could, one bullet had taken his cap and another passed through his shoulder but a slap of the iron by a quick thinking field surgeon had cauterized the wound and no infection had taken root. His company had been decimated and, although he had to return to the front within the week, he looked forward to sleeping in his own bed again, washing his body with fresh water from the stream, holding Evelyn, if only for a short while.

The village was silent, the women peaked cautiously at John through the shutters as he walked down the centre road. Although two years had passed, the broken bottles remained strewn about the place, the church door left open with no pastor to put things right. It was not the place he had grown up in, and loved, and gone away to protect. “Fight there so we don’t have to fight here”.

Evelyn stepped out of the house, John approached the porch and, without saying a word, he stepped inside, Evelyn followed. His kit hit the floor, his boots came off, and they both lay down on the bed, staring, and then sleeping.

The fields were in danger of falling fallow. A man’s work continues, and duty is duty.

The plough had not seen work these past years and was in danger of falling into uselessness. A sharpening stone and some hard work, and the plough was back to a good state.

The morning was crisp and fresh, but not so cold that a man could pretend that a field would not need working. But there were no horses, not even cows to pull the weight. John called, and again, and then a whistle. Slowly, Firefly cautiously stepped out of the woods. A second whistle and, pricking up his ears, Firefly ran with abandon to John, letting him groom him with his hands.

He had survived, somehow, but was wasted and his ribs and hips were visible. This pained John but work had to be done, he fed Firefly with what grain he could find and, after a drink from the stream, put him to work in the field. The straps around his head had rotted with damp and had to be replaced with what rope John could find, it would hurt the horse if he used it for too long, but with good breaks from time to time, he felt it would have to do. By now the womenfolk had gathered in number and watched as John went up and down the field until Firefly frothed at the mouth with exhaustion, it would be enough for this one day. Evelyn watched as John led him to the stable, she was sorry that she hadn’t looked after him properly in those early days, but was glad that all had worked out for the better. Firefly would be ok and, more importantly, so was John.

On the third day of field work, there was movement in the village. Union soldiers had returned and the womenfolk were nowhere to be seen. As the Unionists went from house to house searching for provisions, John quietly loosened Firefly’s harnessing and sent him into the woods. There was a rifle at Evelyn’s but he was out in the open. The only way to it was through the mists and round the village, arriving there at night while the soldiers might be asleep.

Twenty men had ridden into Stone’s Flow those years before, now only eight remained, apparently having deserted these past years and survived on the spoils of their deeds.

Night fell, and John stole his way into Evelyn’s house. There she was, silent and watching, as John found the rifle, loaded it, and with extra ammunition crept out into the night.

The first soldier, a drunken sentry, fell to John’s knife. A second to a rifle shot which alerted the others to his presence. They swiftly gathered and headed towards the sound of the firing. John went back towards Evelyn, and waited. No lights inside gave away his presence and an open side window gave him a clear sight of all the men as they slowly, foolishly, made their way in a line towards him. Unexpectedly, they stopped.

The women looked on, Evelyn waited, John, cocked his rifle.

“I don’t know who you are” shouted the captain, “but if you come out now we’ll kill you nice and quickly, if you don’t come out…”

A bead of sweat ran down John’s forehead, he wiped it from his eyes and steadied his now shaking aim.

“If you don’t come out, well’ we’ll just burn you out and then kill you anyway, just like we did to the womenfolk here last time. You hear me? What’s it gonna be?”

John paused, Evelyn had been everything to him.Two years of fighting had told him that conversation meant death, he fired a bullet straight through the Captains forehead. His men’s horses jolted as John fired again and again, reloading, and then heading out of the building and taking good aim at the now fleeing Unionists. One by one he picked them off, one by one their blood ran into the mud of Stone’s Flow.

The next morning, John dragged the soldiers’ corpses to the churchyard. There, inside the church, he founded the piled corpses of the women. Long dead, but bloodstains on their dresses and undergarments were still distinct. Rings on their fingers had been ripped away, some fingers removed where they would not give easily. In the middle of the pile was a mop of matted but still golden hair, there lay Evelyn.

John had heard of the icy steel of the bayonet, how it felt to those who had survived it, he remembered how the bolt of the bullet hitting his shoulder had felt. He had felt the shockwaves of exploding cannonballs. All this was nothing to the wave of coldness, utter grief, it sucked all energy from him and he fell to his knees, crying so hard that no sound came out. He put Evelyn’s hair to his cheek and sobbed a stream, a river, a torrent, until he passed to sleep from being drained so hard.
The next morning, John dug a pit and threw in the soldiers’ bodies. Throughout the day, he dug graves, shallow as they were, for each of the women and erected a cross for each. He dowsed the soldiers in the remaining liquor and cast a match on them.
Lastly, he carried out his Evelyn, sweet Evelyn. He laid her in a sheet, kissed her good night, and wrapped her bound. As he slowly shoveled the earth onto her corpse, a single tear ran down his cheek, he swept it aside, and rammed home a cross to her pathetic grave.

Out of the mist stepped Firefly, somehow he had sensed that John now needed him again, and John, stroking Firefly’s nose and taking the rope harnessing from his head, climbed up to ride into the mists, rope in hand. The grey wall enveloped them as the bodies burned behind them.

Evelyn stood waiting, John walked out of the mist and they rushed to each other’s arms. The women looked on as the young lovers held hands and walked into the house, together away from the dangers.

John was home at last.

Author Ronald Moger: Short stories and tales of publishing woes.

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