I Am the Savior
by Mark Brand
forum: I Am the Savior
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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I Am the Savior


      Atop a vast mountain, in the last human city, a son was troubling his aging father. Virgil, the savior of the mountain people, was a very old man at seventy. Living just a short walk from the fogline, most men didn't live to see seventy, and those who did were weathered when they reached it. The radiation hadn't sterilized him, and this was no small fortune. At the age of fifty-six, he had fathered Ink with a beautiful young clanswoman named Margaret, his eleventh wife, who herself was young enough to be his daughter.

      Everything was joyous for a time in the city on the mountain. The savior had an heir. A male heir, who would be strong and respected. His was an unbroken bloodline leading all the way back to Holy Jack who had brought them to the mountain and out of darkness. It seemed a flight of blessings had been bestowed upon Virgil, but Margaret fell ill soon after, and died of fever when the boy was still just a toddler.

      Though he had loved all of his wives in turn, even after they had died or he moved to the next in search of another more fertile, Margaret had been his special favorite. She had loved him the way a wild thing loves its mate, with playfulness and a deep, mortal devotion. In his grief, Virgil had sworn never to marry another, and mourned her bitterly.

      Virgil, who knew nothing of the ways of rearing children, enlisted the help of the priests and priestesses of the New Way. It was through the clergy of the New Way that the sick and weak of heart were ministered to in the city on the mountain, and he felt safe in leaving the boy's tutelage to them. Theirs was the home of all that was patient and sympathetic, and forgiving among the people of the mountain. Above all, Virgil wanted for Ink that he be a good man, with a good heart. There was no other heir to the savior's mantle, and if the clansmen did not love him, Ink would be worse than no heir at all.

      So Virgil watched, and waited, and stood by while the toddler grew into a bold youngster, and then into a markedly quiet child. His education was thorough, as heir to the savior it could not have been otherwise, and quiet little Ink absorbed the knowledge that his teachers could provide. For what seemed like twenty years, the boy grew very slowly. Virgil and his councilor Morrow would check in on Ink periodically to find him still studying, still learning under the tutelage of Proctor, the high mother of the New Way. And still, like a watched pot, very much a boy. Virgil forced patience upon himself, and swallowed his desires for a virile young man to be his protégé.

      Eventually, he thought, Ink will be a man, and then I will teach him myself.

      But it wasn't twenty years that passed during this time, or even fifteen. Virgil's impatience and hope for his son made it seem longer. Like an eternity, almost. In the time of the suns, it was only ten years that passed with Ink living and learning in the temple of the New Way. During this time, Virgil was preoccupied with binding together and making peace with the contentious mountain clans.


      Then, all of a sudden and all at once, Ink grew up. At fourteen summers, Ink was a strong boy and broad across the chest. Virgil was delighted, and surprised at the suddenness of Ink's coming of age. He once again became intensely interested in all things surrounding the boy's life and education. Whenever permitted, he would audit the boy's lessons.

      "Do you know what the meaning of life is?" the Proctor would ask.

      "Faith to your clan first, faith to your sisters second, faith to yourself last," Ink would reply with a steely tone.

      "Good." The Proctor would smile sidelong at Virgil and say, "He will be strong."

      "Perhaps," Virgil would reply.

      One day, it occurred to Virgil that there were a number of things that he simply did not know about the boy. Could he hunt? Did he know the ways of debate in the halls of not just books, but men? Was there a man's confidence inside of this new man's body? He decided one afternoon to ask.

      "Can he bring down an eagle?"

      The Proctor looked uncertain.

      "I stoned a pheasant only three days ago, father."

      Virgil smiled distantly.


      The boy looked back at the Proctor.

      "Ink has the best hawks in the city in his cage," the Proctor said, in a placating tone. "His skill with them is progressing."

      "A pheasant is not an eagle, and a slingshot is not a brace of hawks."

      At this, the Proctor only smiled.


      "He has no hope of life if he cannot hunt," Virgil said.

      Morrow, Virgil's friend and councilor of twenty years, nodded his head in agreement.

      "How can he know the New Way and not be a hunter? Does he not know that the Blood Brothers and the Western Arrows will not recognize him as their savior without eagle's blood on his hands? Not to mention the other clansmen…"

      Virgil looked Morrow in the eyes. The savior's face was grave, and this troubled his friend. The two old men stood on the battlement of the citadel and looked out upon the city on the mountain.

      "They will not respect him," Morrow agreed.

      "Respect?" Virgil snorted."They will challenge him openly. They will call him out to the avenue and dash his brains out."

      The savior ran a knobby, wart covered hand through his patchy hair.

      Below the round stone citadel and the temple of the New Way were several clumped "neighborhoods" of three to five structures each. At the center of these neighborhoods was inevitably a long-building that had served as a communal house for the city's original inhabitants. The wanderers that had settled on the mountain lived in clans, often sharing mates to find combinations that could produce offspring. Virgil's own father had sequentially "tried" four mates before one provided him with a child. The fires of the clansmen long-houses glowed in the approaching dusk. Over the fires turned steel spits with vegetables and small birds on them.

      Virgil was the fifth savior of the mountain people. He had inherited the title from his father Irving, who had inherited it in turn from Fenton the Drawl. Fenton, it was rumored, was a baby when the first group of wanderers took the mountain and hewed from the trees the vast, winding avenues of the last city of mankind.

      The Litany of the Faithful told the story each Thursday at sundown as the oily, red star set over the horizon in the thin high-altitude air.

Canto: See the sun set on us…
Chanted reply: We are here, Lord.
      Canto: See the air that poisons…
Chanted reply: We are here, Lord.
      Canto: See the grey lowlands of death…
Chanted reply: We are here above them, Lord.
      Canto: Hear our voices still drawing breath…
Chanted reply: We are still here, Lord.

      It was Virgil's right to call the Canto on Thursday afternoons, but he rarely did so. The Proctor, a woman whose name had once been Cerese, had taken over this duty for him. Age was not a friend to Virgil, and his health had begun the steady, inevitable decline of those who dwelt in the city-on-the-mountain. His joints ached every morning and evening, and his voice had begun to waver and crack when he raised it.

      In the city on the mountain, there existed a loose hierarchy. At the top was the line of the saviors, the hereditary stewards of the mountain, who had brought the sick and poisoned wanderers out of the lowlands. The first had been Holy Jack, with his gun that said COLT .45 and hat with the word "Texaco" on the front. Holy Jack had seen how the poison settled across the land and infected the fruit and grass with living bile. The thousand that followed him carried their livestock on their shoulders so that the animals wouldn't root in the warm, lethal mud. Their feet were covered with boils and lesions from marching through the valley of death.

      As it were, their efforts at saving their livestock were in vain. The swine and cattle eventually became so highly inbred that their lines produced only bottomless bellies and tough, bitter meat. They began to hunt the skies with bows and arrows, slingshots, or most often with other birds themselves. Osprey were raised from the egg to hunt the sweet, untainted meat of the sky.

      Below the savior family were the Proctor and her ilk, clerics and religious zealots who held tightly to the teachings of Holy Jack and the New Way. His hat and pistol were kept in the top floor of their temple, along with his diaries and other books that people had saved or remembered and written down. Then came the common man and woman, living in the wood and stone long-buildings lining the avenues of the city.

      Beneath all of the clans and men toiled the Groans. Great empty-headed colossuses that the poisonous air and ground had addled. They were not sterile, but neither could they produce healthy offspring of their own. Instead, they bred progressively more stunted and brutal progeny. Five generations of labor and living out of doors had made them mute, bent, and huge of body. They sweat and ached under the leather harnesses that they used to till the rough mountain soil. Their hands were wrapped with rags so the awl wouldn't slip. Theirs were the backs that broke to turn the grind-wheel and auger. They were not allowed within the outer wind-wall, as much to protect them from the clansmen and women as the other way around. They slept huddled against the base of the stone wall that they themselves had built.

      "And them…" Morrow nodded toward the Groan encampments.

      "They need only to be handled with care," Virgil said at length. "Tact is something that I'm quite sure Ink is learning, at least."

      "We could kill the Proctor, or separate them somehow." Morrow suggested.

      "It would help nothing. Without her, he has no reliable teacher. I cannot do it."

      "No…" Morrow protested. "I'm sure you could."

      "Do not flatter me. I am too old." Virgil looked at him darkly. Morrow sighed.

      "Perhaps both of us together?"

      Virgil thought about this for a while, and both men watched the sun become yellow, then orange, then red.

      "We will try."


      "But I am nearly finished reading the Works, Father. Why must I come with you?"

      "It is good that you have read Holy Jack's words, Ink, but it is time that you learn a few more things you will need in order to be the next savior."

      The boy turned his face downward in an unhappy but typical sulk. He seemed to think about it for a bit, and brightened again a moment later with inner hope.

      "Will they help me go back to the world someday?"

      Virgil stared at him sharply, his eyes narrowing. He took Ink by the elbow and turned him to look at the land beyond the fogline. There were other mountain peaks in the distance, but they were all empty save for beasts and birds.

      "This is the world, Ink. All that is left of it."

      Ink's eyes shifted toward the horizon and the grey-misted valleys beyond. Virgil followed.

      "That way is death," Virgil said, abruptly.

      "How did Holy Jack get through?" Ink asked.

      "By leaving a trail of corpses behind him," Virgil snapped.

      To this, Ink had no reply. Morrow interjected a suggestion.

      "Why not start with some hunting?"

      Virgil brightened. Ink did not.

      "You said you have brought pheasants down?" Virgil asked, changing the subject.

      "Yes," Ink said, cautiously. "Slinging them."

      "Well, it's not glorious, but it's a start. Let's see you bring one down for our supper tonight."

      And so the rest of that day, and for many days afterward, Ink took his sling out onto the hillside and flung stones skyward at the healthy flocks of birds above. He brought down a fair number, which would have been perfectly satisfactory to the two men if Ink had been nine or even ten years old instead of fourteen. The boy became frustrated quickly at the older men's disdain, and often sulked.

      "Just get back out there and try again," Morrow and Virgil would encourage him.

      The two older men hoped that with time Ink would see the error of hunting pheasants and sparrows with stones. The throw was difficult, the technique imprecise, and there was always the danger of a random stone going wild and striking someone on the downward arc. There was never any danger of running out of stone; whenever they needed more for building or sling-shot, they would simply send a Groan down to the loose quarry a few paces below the fogline.

      After watching Ink struggle with the slingshot for a while, Virgil decided it was time to show the boy how to hunt like a man.

      "I may look feeble," said Virgil, "but I can bring down more birds in an afternoon than you can."

      Ink did not doubt the challenge, but his father seemed determined to prove it to him nonetheless. The two of them hunted a large down-slope on the leeward side of the mountain on a bright, chilly afternoon. Virgil took his beloved falcons Bertram and Lexus and Ink took a bag of stones. Virgil pulled the birds' straps and flung them at the sky with a great smile on his old face. Ink scowled into the air and tried to follow the birds with his eyes.

      As they trudged home hours later, Ink carried a small sparrow on his belt that he had winged, and three fat pheasants that Lexus and Bertram had brought down. Virgil clearly loved his birds, but Ink noticed that his father did not coo at the birds the way that the Proctor and her acolytes did to Ink's hawk. That particular bird, which had done no hunting since it was given fully-trained to Ink, was named Bob Seger. Ink's teachers and the Proctor treated Bob Seger like a house-pet.

      The following day, Virgil demanded that Ink bring Bob Seger out to the field. The bird looked slightly stunned when Ink pulled its hood. It had been a long time since the creature was allowed to fly off of a leash. When Ink tried to loft the hawk, it clung to the glove and fluttered around his face.

      "Fly!" the boy shouted at the uncooperative bird. Bob Seger held fast and roosted.

      "Damn you!" shouted Ink, enraged. "Fly!"

      Virgil stepped in quickly and hooded the bird. He took the animal and placed it on his own glove, feeding it a tiny strip of meat. With a speed that was alarming, Virgil grabbed Bob Seger's head and neck with his opposite hand and twisted sharply. The bird went limp instantly and fell off of Virgil's hand, hanging from his thin leather leash. Virgil untied it carefully and lay the bird down on the ground by Lexus and Bertram's perch. The other two birds watched without so much as blinking. Ink was horrified.

      "Why did you do that!?" he cried.

      "This bird was not fit for you, or for the world of birds. Had I let it go, the eagles would have eaten it alive or it would have starved to death. In either case, there is a hunter who needs to learn to hunt with the falcon and that," he gestured to Bob Seger's corpse, "is not and never would have been a suitable bird for you."

      Virgil walked over to the perch where his own two falcons were perched and he put a second glove on to Ink's free hand. The boy, who was strong even for his age, had difficulty holding still for the two seasoned hunting hawks.

      "If you fear them, you must conquer it," cautioned Virgil. It was clear to him, though, that Ink was afraid from head to toe of the birds.


      For a few days afterward, Virgil let Ink struggle with the birds. Ink managed to learn the method of hunting one of them at a time. Lexus, it usually was, that would fly aloft almost of her own volition, and tear a fat pheasant or goose out of the air with sharp claws. Ink realized after a while, as Virgil had suspected almost immediately, that the birds were just hunting because that's what they did. There was no art in it for Ink, and the birds themselves were making the decisions. This seemed to frustrate Ink endlessly, especially when Lexus or Bertram simply flew around a bit and returned not to Ink's hand but directly to the wrapped wooden perch.

      Virgil saw that the boy was trying, however, and took some comfort in the hope that perhaps, just perhaps, he might be a suitable hunter someday. More time passed, and the birds hunted still only when they felt like it. Virgil watched this in frustration and consulted Morrow about it.

      "He hasn't the feel for it at all," Virgil said, forlornly.

      "Give him more time. He started late, and didn't hatch the birds himself they way you and I did."

      "Why on earth not?"

      Morrow shrugged. "Maybe he didn't want to?"

      "What on earth does that have to do with anything?" Virgil roared.

      "The Proctor spent much time with him learning the ways of Holy Jack, and not enough of learning our ways."

      "Well," Virgil frowned, "he had better learn quickly. He will be a man soon, whether he wants to or not."


      "It is time for you to learn to hunt the eagle," Virgil said to Ink one day.

      Ink looked at him, doubtfully.

      "I will show you how it is done," Virgil warned, gravely, "but if you cannot do this, you will never be the next savior, no matter how many pheasants you sling."

      Vergil took both Lexus and Bertram in the air and extended his arms, putting the birds close together for a moment. The falcons regarded each other with dark, emotionless eyes. Ink was smart enough to realize that there was some sort of signal here between his father and the birds, but he could not fathom it. With a guttural 'rrrrrrraaaaahhhh!' Virgil threw the birds upward with both arms. They climbed the air with their beating wings, spiraling upward rapidly. They shot off toward another mountaintop in a straight line, never far from each other.

      Ink watched for a moment, puzzled that the birds had abandoned them.


      "Shhhhh!" Virgil hissed at him."Wait!"

      Ink and Virgil stood silently on the hillside with only the sound of the creaking flourmills in the distance, turned by lurching, sweaty Groans. After a moment that seemed like forever to Ink, the piercing scream of an eagle in the distance could be heard.

      "There," whispered Virgil, pointing at the sky. Despite his age, the old man's eyes were still sharp, and he could see the eagle long before Ink. The great silver and black bird was striving across the mountain sky with Lexus and Bertram not far behind and gaining ground.

      "You see," whispered Virgil, "the eagle is our great enemy. It steals the food from our mouths. If we cannot kill it, it will kill us with starvation."

      Ink watched on in wonder as Bertram and Lexus allowed the eagle to drop slightly below them. In tandem, they dove at the bigger bird's wings, and tore into it. The three birds fell in a feathered mass toward the ground, and Bertram and Lexus hurtled away at the last moment. The eagle was dead.


      Naturally, it was then Ink's turn to try hunting eagles. At first, the boy approached the task with swagger and confidence. This encouraged Virgil slightly. At least, he thought, the boy is making an effort. Within a short time, however, it was clear to him that Ink's confidence was an act.

      "Balls!" he would yell, after Bertram or Lexus came back from an eagle hunt with a sparrow for itself to eat, or nothing at all. "Miserable birds!"

      Virgil could appreciate his anger, but tried to correct the boy whenever this happened.

      "You must exert your will over them," Virgil instructed, "or they will never respect you. If they do not respect you, neither will the clansmen."

      "Damn the clansmen!" Ink shouted at Virgil, kicking over the hawk's perch. Lexus and Bertram fluttered indignantly out of the way. "And damn these stupid birds!"

      "You listen to me," Virgil shouted at Ink, pointing his finger. Lexus reflexively lit on Virgil's arm, "you will do this or you cannot ever hope to be the savior!"

      Ink stalked off toward the citadel and left Virgil alone on the hillside with the upset perch.

      "You must come with me tomorrow," Virgil told Morrow that afternoon as he sat at the end of a long wooden table in the citadel arbitrating disagreements between rival clanspeople.

      "He hasn't had any luck?" Morrow asked, sympathetically.

      "None," Virgil bit out. "Either that or he's just not trying."

      "I'll see if I can help."


      So it was the following day that Morrow came with Virgil to the hillside and taught Ink something new. For the first hour of their hunt, Morrow told Ink to let the birds fly freely without hunting and to focus on watching how they moved. Ink had difficulty with this at first, but soon he could pick out the dark feathered arrows among the clouds with ease. This encouraged all of them, particularly Virgil who realized that perhaps it had been his fault to not approach the training this way to begin with. The time came for Ink to try taking an eagle, and Morrow handed Lexus and Bertram over to the boy. Some time had passed since they had begun teaching Ink to hunt, and now Ink's arms were stronger and didn't sag under the weight of the gloves and birds.

      "There is no special trick to getting the hawks to hunt the eagle," said Morrow. "You can only will them to do what you want, and they will decide whether or not to hunt for you."

      Ink regarded the hawks for a moment side by side. They stared back at him with cold black eyes. He thought to himself: Hunt, you hawks. I am the savior. Hunt the eagle for me.

      Finally, he could feel a surge of power rush up into his heart and he flung them into the air with a yell. Lexus and Bertram flew off into the distance, slowly becoming tiny specks in the distance. Ink stood on the hillside with his heart beating loudly in his ears. Virgil and Morrow waited hopefully for the birds to return.

      It took a very long time, but eventually Lexus and Bertram re-appeared, driving ahead of them a large, fierce-looking eagle. Ink was overcome with elation. He wanted to cry out with joy, but knew that he had to remain silent until the hawks had made their kill. The three men on the ground watched in silent expectation.

      As the eagle passed overhead, however, something inexplicable happened. The hawks did not move into position to strike. They held back, Bertram behind and Lexus above. Ink's heart sank, the hawks had judged him unworthy and there was no denying their ambivalence to him. Before he could stop himself, Ink's hand dipped into his pocket for the slingshot. A small rock the size of a marble lay in it. He slid it out, and followed the eagle with his eyes.

      I don't need a damned bird to do my hunting for me, he thought.

      "No!" shouted Virgil, but it was too late. Ink slung the stone into air with a speed like the bullets of old. It arced toward the oncoming eagle.

      Just as he let the shot fly, however, Lexus darted in for the kill. It was a different kind of strike than any Virgil or Ink had ever seen. Lexus clawed straight for the throat of the huge bird, and as she did, Ink's stone struck her squarely. The eagle and Bertram veered away as Lexus fell to the earth, dead.

      Ink stared dumbly at the sky for a moment before Virgil grabbed the boy by both shoulders and knocked him off his feet.

      "Father!" Ink sputtered, "I'm sorry—"

      "You fool!" Virgil shouted furiously. "That hawk was more of a hunter than you will ever be!"

      The old man grabbed Ink's shirt and dragged him to the edge of a rocky drop-off on the mountain. He held Ink there, suspended in mid-air. Ink was amazed at how strong his old father was.

      "Father, why?" Ink pleaded.

      "You do not understand, boy!" Virgil roared at him, "The hawk is nothing compared to man. The clansmen will destroy you and take this city away from the saviors if you show them an instant of weakness! If they do not respect you, they will fight each other and there will be war! If there is war, we are finished."

      Virgil dragged Ink back from the precipice and tossed him roughly to the ground.

      "If you do not have the blood of an eagle on your hands, I cannot leave you the mantle of savior. To do so would be certain destruction not just for you, but for all of us. I am too old to have more sons, and soon I will be gone as well. If I leave this city to you, I leave it to the buzzards!"

      Virgil stormed off to retrieve Bertram, who was still tracking the eagle overhead despite Morrow's efforts to recall him. Ink slunk up the hill toward the New Way temple.


      Later that same day, Virgil and Morrow were once more on the battlement of the citadel.

      "I have failed, I think," Virgil said, gravely.

      "Perhaps you were right," Morrow replied. "He should have been doing this five years ago, not now. Now he is too headstrong, too impatient. He doesn't have the heart for it."

      Virgil shook his head.

      "Now what do we do?"

      Suddenly, a loud crash was heard throughout the city. The clansmen and their wives stopped their daily routine and looked toward the citadel. No one had heard a sound like this in decades. It had been many years since all the gunpowder in the city had been used or ruined by rain and dampness.

      Down from the temple's top floor ran Ink, Holy Jack's hat on his head and the ancient smoking pistol in his hand.

      "What are you doing?" Morrow called to him. Virgil stood blinking, not believing his eyes. On the wooden streets between the temple and the citadel, a medium-sized eagle with black-tipped feathers lay dead on the avenue. Ink walked up to it and seized the twitching carcass.

      "Here!" the boy shrieked at Virgil. "Here is your ever-fucking eagle! Are you happy?"

      "Nn… no, Ink," Morrow stammered. "You mustn't—"

      "Damn your mustn't!" Ink shouted. He raised the pistol and it crashed in his hand, spitting fire. Morrow pitched over the side of the battlement, dead. Ink mounted the steps and took them three at a time, rushing up to where his father stood, stunned. He threw the eagle at Virgil's feet.

      "I am the savior," Ink shouted at him at only arm's length.

      "You are nothing," Virgil whispered, at last. "You know nothing. You endanger us all."

      Ink let out a cry and shot Virgil dead against the battlement.


      "I am the savior!" Ink shouted, as he walked down the steps of the citadel. Clansmen and the Proctor's folk were running everywhere.

      "Get out of the street!" someone yelled at him. "The Groans are coming!"

      "The Groans?" said Ink. He picked one clansman at random and pointed the pistol at him. The man froze, frantic.

      "Why are the Groans coming?"

      The man said nothing. Ink pointed the gun at the ground and fired it. People all around shrieked in terror. The clansman jumped at the gunshot. Slowly, the petrified man pointed at Holy Jack's pistol.

      "The noise," the clansman said. Before Ink could stop him, the man broke and ran up the avenue toward higher ground.

      The ground beneath Ink began to shake. He looked down the mountain toward the wind-wall and saw the Groans, male and female, ripping down the walls piece by piece. There were hundreds of them and they spilled onto the streets of the mountain city and destroyed everything in their path. Chains that had been used for restraining them became deadly flails. The moaning which gave them their name could be heard all the way up the mountain. The clansmen and their families fled before them like frightened screaming children.

      He raised the pistol into the air and screamed at the top of his lungs.

      "I AM THE SAVIOR!"

      He pulled the trigger and the gunshot rang out above the clamor. There was a brief pause, and then the Groans fell back to their destruction.

      "I AM THE SAVIOR!" Ink screamed himself hoarse.

      He looked around himself for help, for an army to rally, but there was no one. Small groups had taken the top floors of the citadel and were closing the great wooden gates. Below, the Groans smashed everything in their path. Wood, stone, or human.

      I am the savior, he thought.

      Ink ran down the mountain toward the melee. Some clansmen were trying to fight the Groans with arrows and flaming torches, but it was no use. The Groans were huge and powerful, and swept the men aside easily.

      Ink stopped and pointed Holy Jack's pistol at a nearby Groan.

      "Stop!" he shouted. The Groan looked up at him and roared in its simpleton voice.


      Ink fired. The gun barked in his hand and the Groan shrugged slightly. It looked at its arm, which a thin red line of blood was running down, and then back at Ink.

      Ink fired a second time, then a third, then a fourth. But with the fourth pull there was no crash. The gun had no more bullets. The Groan brushed off the small wounds and bore down on Ink. The boy threw the pistol at the Groan and screamed one final time.

      "I AM THE SAVIOR!"

      The Groan seized Ink and flung him down the mountain. By the time he skidded to a stop at the place where the wind-wall had been, his body was broken and bleeding and he was dead.

      The Groans, not stopping even to appreciate this development, continued up the mountain and tore the city and the clansmen apart. Brick by brick, and bone by bone.


      In the aftermath of this terrible destruction, the Clansmen and the New Way folk were driven before the Groans and dashed to bloody rags against the mountain crags in which they hid, or they were forced to flee into the poisonous grey fog to die. When the agonized guttural moaning of the Groans finally ceased, it was because they had torn down everything that they had made for their clansman masters. There would be no more hewing of stone or logging of trees for them. Their crude tools lay at the edge of the fogline, never to be picked up again. No more would they sleep in the shadow of the clansmen with the cool wind of the blighted earth below them on their necks.

      The once great city on the mountain was now just a litter of wood and stone at the ceiling of the earth. Buzzards picked the carcasses of dead men, women and children clean and their grinning skulls were all that remained of them.

      As for the Groans, once the city was destroyed they sat around for a while in grunting satisfaction at their handiwork, and then set off down the mountain in search of something to eat. They passed the fogline without fear, and waded into the poisonous fallout from the ancient war. They wandered like shadows in the thick misty death until their eyes ran blood and their throats closed. Their skins split like roasted swine, and their miserable existence ended crawling along blindly in the poisonous darkness.
Atop the mountain flew the hawks and the eagles, left forever to judge the peculiar creature that was man, and to stare blankly at the strewn ruins of the last human city.


copyright 2005 Mark Brand.

Mark Brand is a massage therapist and medical assistant who lives in the northern suburbs of Chicago with his wife/editor Beth. He has been writing sci-fi and speculative sociological fiction for approximately thirteen years and was a co-founder of the literary website Dyingdays.com. His stories have been featured on Silverthought.com and in the science fiction anthology Alien Light. He has also published a number of pieces of non-science fiction including a young adult fantasy novel entitled The Prince and The Pitchman (POD published in 2002 through Booksurge), an essay in the 9/11 retrospective To Wound The Autumnal City, and an e-book by the now-defunct Flagstone Publishing entitled "Bunnygirl". His current projects include a portion of the Silverthought.com collaborative effort Night.Blind entitled "Human Resources", as well as finishing his second young adult fantasy novel, the upcoming The Journey of the Tallish Ten.