Searchers

The world has changed. And not for the better.

The politicians will tell you differently, of course, but they’re wrong. Most of society just goes along, never giving any thought to the past. That’s the way the government wants it. History has been dramatically altered, if not expunged altogether in most places.

But there are a few, just a handful that dwindles with each passing year, who know better, who are trying to preserve humankind’s history. I am one of them. We’re called Searchers.

The Searchers is a secret society, formed just over one hundred years ago, to seek out, save, and pass on, knowledge from our past. Each Searcher has a particular method of carrying out the job. Some use simple voice recorders to listen to and archive oral history, passed down through the millennia. Some collect ancient artifacts, like artworks and books to save knowledge and pleasure.

Then there are the paired Searchers. The teams of dream-walkers and their scribes, who travel through dreams, searching memories and recording the images, sounds, smells, and feelings of each one.

I am Sarah. I’m a dream-walker. And my scribe is missing.

Her favorite

“Finally, I found you! I will defeat you.”

“Huh? What are you talking about, dude?” The confused engineer said to the oddly dressed man who had just popped up beside him.

“I know who you are, you can’t fool me with your everyday-man disguise,” the villain cried. “I worked it out, from the clues you’ve left over the years.”

The engineer stood up from his desk. “Look, man, I got no idea what you’re talking about. I’m just a computer engineer. I work on computers. That’s it. No disguise, no clues.”

The villain dismissed the other man’s words with a wave of his hand. He looked around the small office, searching for bystanders. There were none. It was a single person office, sparsely furnished and cluttered with paperwork.

“There’s no one here to playact for, hero! Come, fight me!”

“I’m going to call security. I have no idea how you got to the fifteenth floor without being stopped in that getup, but you’re definitely going to have an escort out.”

The villain looked down at his clothes. They seemed alright to him. Black spandex leggings with red concentric circles spread across the thighs; a red spandex long sleeved shirt with black concentric circles throughout; knee high black leather boots; a thin, multi-pocketed belt of red nylon;  and black leather, fingerless gloves. He couldn’t see his mask, but he knew he had it on. Half black, half red, circles in circles around his eyes.

“Ahh, you think to confuse me with jokes about my villain attire? It will get you nowhere! I will defeat you, once and for all!”

The oddly dressed man pulled a short, stub-nosed gun from a pocket in his belt, aiming it at the engineer who had just picked up his office phone.

“What’s that? Never seen anything like it,” the engineer said.

“Freeze ray,” the villain said proudly. “Watch how it works!” He shot his freeze ray gun at the other man’s legs, which were immediately encased in ice.

“You see, it doesn’t exactly freeze you. It freezes the air around you, encasing you alive in ice. Until, of course, you get hypothermia…”

The frozen man struggled to free himself, scared now and even more confused.

“Why are you freezing me? What did I do to you? At least, tell me that,” he begged the smug villain.

“Oh, you know why. But I will tell you a secret. I didn’t figure you out alone. Your daughter told me, although she didn’t know she did. I was in my everyday-man disguise at the dentist, when she told me you were the best superhero ever, her ‘favorite, favorite, favorite‘ I believe she said.”

The Package

The room was empty, except for that brown paper-wrapped package. I had no idea how it got there in the middle of the sterile space, but there it was, sitting pretty as you please. I walked over to it, treading lightly over the stark white tiles, feeling the cold radiate up through my paper slippers. I knelt on the floor in front of the tiny box, studying the intricate knot tying it closed.

Gingerly I reached my trembling hand out toward the plain brown string, grasping hold of the longest end. I pulled, ever so slowly, watching the beautiful knotwork fall apart. The knot finally came loose, letting the brown butcher’s paper fall open, revealing the ornately embossed white cardboard box underneath.

Sitting back on my heels, I studied the box for several long minutes, humming to myself. The back of my flimsy gown stirred in the silently blowing air conditioning. I started in amazement as the top of the cardboard box violently jumped upward. I quickly reached forward to finish removing the lid. Inside, I found a tiny rabbit, clad in a paisley vest, with a top hat and minute stopwatch.

Timid now, not wanting to scare the miniature creature, I slide my hand into the box. He hops right into my upturned palm, turning to look up at me.

Behind me, the door slams open. I spin around, to see the white-clad orderly handing me a tiny white paper cup.

To release or not to release

“My side firmly opposes the plan. There has to be some other way.” The well-dressed man said to the scruffy one opposite him at the corner booth at Burger King 2254. His manicured fingers gingerly held a greasy fry, which he used to punctuate his remark. His black pinstripe suit and expensive leather shoes seemed out of place for the fast-food joint, especially at this time of night.

“Sure, sure. But my side is all for it. If you have another option, feel free, but I’m pretty sure we don’t have another viable option,” the scruffy older man replied with a shrug. His long, unkempt hair and greasy beard told of a man used to eating deep-fried bits of this and that. His stained Grateful Dead tee and faded, thinning blue jeans marked him as down-on-his-luck. He shoved the last third of his burger in his mouth, a ravenous beast selfishly gorging on his prey.

The expensively dressed, dark-haired handsome man watched, horrified, before pushing the majority of his meal across. “Here. If you’re so hungry, eat mine. It’s definitely not my first choice for dinner.”

The bearded one eagerly grabbed at the offered food. “We don’t usually get to eat like this. Usually, it’s all healthy and organic. Stuff we grow ourselves. I miss junk food.”

A few minutes passed in silence. The younger man watched with disgust as his dinner companion ate.

He broke the silence once again. “I do hate to ask, but, do you have to meet me in clothes that are falling apart and haven’t been laundered in ages? I know you have better. I mean, it’s you.”

“Hmm? Oh, well, I suppose I could, but what’s the difference?” The older man was genuinely confused as to why his appearance would make any difference to their continued discussion.

“It isn’t like I’m asking for tails and top hat, or a gourmet multi-course meal. Just a little sense of decency.”

A chuckle escaped between bites of cheeseburger. “I’m decent. Enough. Not everyone has even this much, you know.”

“Let’s get back to the real issue, now. The rest of this food can wait.” The vagrant pushed away his remaining bits of dinner and settled back into the seat. “Unless you can bring me a suitable compromise within 72 hours, we’ll have no choice but to begin the release.”

“Three days? That’s all you’re giving me?” The sharply dressed man exclaimed, though he really wasn’t surprised. Three anything was typical for his companion. “You might have given more thought to this matter, yourself, you know.”

The bearded one nodded. “You would say that, son, but you have no idea how long I’ve pondered this. There simply is no other way.”

“Fine. I’ve thought about it. I’ve spoken with others, I’ve explored other options. But I will not release anyone from my side. They’ll just have to bear with the overcrowding until we think of some other way.”

“If that’s how you feel, I can’t change it. But the releases begin from my estate tomorrow, bright and early. We’ll begin with the youngest, releasing in waves. They’re the ones most traumatically taken. I hope the world can stand it…” God trailed off as he stood up.

“Fool,” Lucifer hissed. “Of course, the world can’t stand it. Hell will keep its inhabitants, damn the overcrowding. Management there isn’t lacking. We’ll find a way to ensure the boundaries of each circle.”

The devil stalked away, throwing over his shoulder, “This is no way to win, you know. I’ll make sure to save you a seat, right below my own.”

I live alone

I live alone. But when I came home today, the toilet seat was warm.

I live alone. But the TV was on when I got up this morning.

I live alone. But the heater turned off in the middle of the night.

I live alone. But I can’t find my black belt.

I live alone. But there are hand prints on my bathroom mirror.

I live alone. But the neighbors complain of loud music when I’m gone.

I live alone. But someone talks, outside the shower, and I don’t know if she’s talking to me…or someone else.

I don’t think I live alone.

The doorman

“Good evening, sir,” the doorman said to the entering patron. “I hope you enjoy your stay.”

The behemoth held open the heavy door for the diminutive man in an expensive suit. “There will be a guide waiting on the other side, on the left.” The giant tipped his uniform’s hat at the small man.

“Madam.” The next patron was a woman, impeccably dressed like most of the people entering his protected domain. “To the right is your guide, ma’am. Enjoy your time with us.”

“Maurice!” The shout echoed across the area, causing everyone in line to jump and look guiltily around for the one called. “Maurice! I desire to speak with you, beast.”

The voice calling for the doorman was deep and commanding, rich with barely constrained mirth.

The hulking doorman handed off his duties to his waiting second. “Be polite, Japeth. We don’t need another incident.”

With that, Maurice trotted off, heeding the beckoning call of his boss.

“Maurice, my man,” the boss greeted his underling. “I have an important personage coming in tonight. I’m going to need you to man the private door. Leave Japeth on the front.”

“Sure thing, boss.” Maurice liked the private entrance better, anyway. He wished the boss would use it more, but the boss’ private, on-the-side business wasn’t doing so great.

“I’ll head down there, now. Do I need to be on the lookout?”

“Just extra nice, Maurice. This one did me some great favors up there,” Satan replied to his doorman’s question. “Oh, and make sure he takes off the necklace, first.”

Her sacrifice

The adventuring party was battered and bruised. They had lost their cleric early on in the expedition, so they’d had to rest and heal as they could. They had no blessings to keep them going, no god to beg for mercy, no helping hand to shine a light on their plight.

“Just a little further, boys,” the remaining woman of the group, a wizard, says to the flagging group. “Up ahead, if I remember the map correctly, is a chamber, once used as a temple, that houses a fount of fresh water. It also has no other doors than the one we’ll be using to enter. Easily defensible.”

Groans met her proclamation. The three men, who had all been wounded in one way or another, were too exhausted to utter anything resembling words.

The wizard’s ever-burning torch illuminated enough of the area to show them that they were in a narrow corridor. No doors or crossing corridors were visible in their immediate vicinity. They hadn’t encountered any since they’d entered this tunnel-like hall several minutes ago.

“I do hope we weren’t followed. Or, if so, I hope the goblins don’t catch us until after we’ve rested some,” the woman said to her companions. The men just trudged on, letting her tire herself.

A few dozen more yards they tramped, all desperate for a break. The end of the corridor was an ornately engraved archway, entering into a foreboding darkness.

“Here! I knew I was leading us in the right direction.” Her squeal of self-congratulation echoed in the close confines of the dim dungeon.

The halfling picked his way forward, checking for traps and scanning for anything of value in sight. Sensing nothing, he nodded to the rest of them. One by one they entered the enormous room, the wizard with her torch leading the way, followed by the disenchanted ranger with his pointed ears drooping in exhaustion. The roguish halfing darted inside next, with the brutish barbarian lumbering along at the rear.

The group had just crossed an intricate mosaic in the cobbled floor when torches flashed into being along the walls. A haunting chanted melody drifted toward them, growing in intensity the closer it got. An unnoticed door dropped from the ceiling to settle into place in the archway behind the adventurers.

“Greetings, interlopers,” a thunderous voice washed over them. “My cleric has done well in her choice of sacrifice. I accept!”