life is a fucking piss off."
tramped through light mist and damp underbrush, back to his camp
after a miserable day's hunt. He was about fed up with the only
joy he seemed able to find anymore. At least the rain had let
expletive even surprised him as it fell right out of his thought
process, splashed off the fiddle head ferns and assailed his own
ears, accustomed only to the easy shush of wet leaves.
hadn't been fair to Tom. He lost his parents early. His wife of
fifteen years was now married to his old hunting partner and any
pleasant memories of those times were wiped away with visitation
arguments and child support increases.
was why Tom was hunting alone. It seemed these days he was the
only friend he had.
now was when he recognized the telltale squish between his toes
that indicated a hole in the sole of his neoprene hiking boots
and a feeling of why not kick me, the line starts here.
strange sound broke his mope and pinned him to his spot in the
trail. The sound was metallic and his first thought was the cocking
of a gun. Slowly but surely he eased to the ground and melted
into the large Salal bush at his knee.
his luck he would be picked off by a hare brain with a hair trigger
who thought deer wore camouflage.
listened for some time and heard the sound twice more but it seemed
to be in the canopy somewhere and he scanned for blinds in the
half hour passed while Tom strained all his senses but there were
no more sounds that didn't fit and the birds even started to move
around him, preparing for evening roost.
of his senses did however pick up a signal and that was his sense
of smell; something like a mixture of rust and roasted coffee
had stroked the air just enough to let him know it was there.
He knew he had another mile and a half to put in to get back to
his camp, but he may have stumbled on someone else's.
had to move. This was no place to spend the night with a leaky
stood to ease his pinging muscles and began to move one foot at
a time down the game trail now that camp felt much more important.
Perhaps hunting alone was really not such a good idea.
was quiet now so he picked up his pace. "Screw the hunt.
I've had enough for one day." Again his outside voice broke
steps and a matured woodsman's gait soon had him making good ground
and camp slipped into view.
hour later Tom, in dry clothes, sat on his tailgate, eating a
fair good meal wrangled from his truck camper. A fire crackled
nearby and hot coffee steamed at his side.
rain had turned to mist about noon and had stopped completely
by the time he got to camp. Now stars were poking through the
clouds in the deepening dark with a welcome glitter that eased
his troubled soul. Even in hell there are good moments, he thought,
this time with his inner voice.
contemplating the growing basket of sparkles over his coffee,
the wildest moonbeam he ever saw slid down through the breaking
clouds, then changed in hue to a silvery bronze glow. There was
no sign of the moon to create such a beam, so amazement helped
Tom's coffee cup levitate slowly down to the tailgate. This was
watched as the beam grew more bronze and started moving through
the now darkened forest. It made the tops of the trees it brushed
look like their needles were on fire.
first the beam slid across the bow back mountain, then down the
broken ridge to the south and on down to the alpine meadow where
the logging road broke over the hump onto this plateau.
was another metallic click like the one Tom heard on the trail
but this time louder and in the direction of the source of the
beam. The beam changed direction and was now on its way toward
hand slid up the seat at the back of the camper and wrapped around
the butt of his .308 hunting rifle.
click and he became aware of the now strong smell of rusty coffee.
A quick glance at his own cup stated the obvious; it was not his
coffee that he smelled. The third symptom of this experience now
hit. Tom's hair was on end. All of it. Literally, even his head
hair stuck out like he was a large magnet and his hair was iron
filings. His arm hair was fluffed and even his chest hair and
genitalia sent sensations across his body like a breeze through
his hair. Tom did not enjoy this.
beam swept the scrub spruce on the plateau now and neared his
camp. The rifle was readied and a loud question was in the chamber.
was aware of a shake in his hands but worked his best to ease
it off. "Probably a damn helicopter looking for a green horn...
There goes that outer voice again." Now he was talking to
himself out loud. "Shit!"
beam broke out into his camp and pulled up a seat on his campfire.
The sparks were simply drifting up their own shining chimney.
changed for a millennium in Tom's mind then three men and a woman
simply lifted out of his fire and stepped back to be lit by its
light, impervious to the heat and flames. Tom had a feeling his
gun was of little use here. For another eternity, they didn't
speak, they just watched him.
clothes they wore were a little city for this setting, but wind
breakers and sweaters made Tom feel they were feeling the chill.
"What the hell?"
didn't know if that was inside or outside voice, and he really
didn't care anymore.
smallest guy grinned a perfect smile and said, "Hi Tom."
rest of the committee smiled with this and nodded in greeting.
little guy seemed to be leading this slide into insanity so he
opened again with, "It's been a while and you don't remember
us, but for a cup of your coffee, we'll enlighten you to our last
visit and fill you in on what this is all about."
without a word, Tom replaced the rifle to its berth and brought
camp chairs from a little used plywood box on the back end of
the camper. He worked automatically and deliberately to accommodate
his guests. A new pot of coffee was perked on the propane stove
and Tom showed amazing patience before pouring their cups full,
taking a place amongst them and asking, "OK, now who the
hell are you?"
Tom, we three are your parole board and this lovely lady is your
wife." The little guy still led the way.
board? If I didn't know for sure I was going crazy right now,
I'd say you were out of your friggin' gourd."
made a mental note that he had edited his statement automatically
for the lady.
little guy tipped his lips to his steaming coffee and nodded gently
toward the skinny one, who was doing the same.
skinny guy now leaned forward and presented what looked like a
pen to Tom. "Please take this; it will help explain what
we are talking about."
reached out and took the stylus and it clicked that strange sound
and the rusty coffee smell overtook him. Reality began to settle
around him now and the setting faded away from campfire to softly
lit meeting board room with glass walls framing a city world at
dusk with millions of lights like stars spreading around this
tower they sat in.
splendor of the evening vista flooded his mind with memories and
understanding poured back in.
people were no longer human and by now Zil knew he as not human
Bel, Lar, Ras
sure good to see you again Gix. How long have
I been gone this time?
time the small framed Ras, the warden, chimed in. "You have
two human life times in, Zil, one more to go. I have to say this
one was your toughest so far, but you get to start fresh with
the next one, so make it your best."
his personal incarceration guide, leaned in across the massive
glass table. "Zil, as you know and understand now, purpose
bound killing is just not something society can warrant. You took
three sub species' lives when exploring that small planet and
two thirds of your sentence is served. The first one you seemed
to learn, as killing was repugnant to you. The second you became
an expert in the field of tracking, hunting and killing. Not a
good sign in your rehabilitation. Since you lived your life as
a human, this was in your nature, but we are hoping it will show
you why our society is superior in every way."
the sentence executionist, now took the floor.
could not see any reason for leniency from the last two lives,
so you will be tasked to do the third life sentence as originally
applied. The difference will be that during this life time, you
will know who you are and somewhere near your eighth year, you
will begin to remember the former lives, why you are there. You
will understand why you should work toward enlightening those
of the human species you interact with, to the lesson learned.
It will not be long before they are brought into the union and
must live by the same laws."
eyes now turned to Gix, who remained silent.
warden now finished their review. "Gix was not guilty of
your crimes, so society does not want to punish her. In our time,
your life sentences have been but a few days. Gix should not be
made to go without her right to mate, and you as her husband should
be the partner in her needs. You will service her as appropriate
before continuing your term."
spoke quietly now. "Tom just had a heart attack and died
back on earth. When you are done your visitation with Gix, you
will begin your last term."
smiled coyly, stood and walked around the table to lead Zil into
the visitation room. As they entered, she flicked her hand across
the opaque switch stand and the walls filled in to leave them
to their own resources.
dropped their shells and merged at once. Within moments the room
was radiant with their light.
of Gix were sweet and they carried Zil a long way. There was no
way of escaping this confinement and the black existence was increasingly
painful. Unfortunately, those memories were beginning to fade
now and his whole existence was comprised of the paradox in which
he found himself. Bathed in warmth and nourished to the extent
of his every need, yet contained and bound in this black senseless
there was a surge and Zil felt the support below him give way
slightly. Panic set in as his benevolent prison began to give
movement stopped and his heart rate begin to slow. Zil stretched
to ease the weight concentrating on his head and shoulders and
suddenly another tremor, this time bigger, and his world rushed
out around his head and shoulders, leaving him grasping and pushing
to spread the pressure away from his head.
slipped and his prison walls crushed down on him. His head was
squeezed through a crevasse it couldn't fit through and he felt
his energy waning.
as he thought he could gain some strength, another push from his
compressing walls and his left shoulder was trapped. His struggle
subsided now. He was giving up. This was his end.
the pressure from all sides and this time he didn't resist. A
moment later he was screaming at the top of his lungs and gasping
for breath in a freezing hell of light and noise. The smell of
rusty coffee was overpowering.
some relief in the form of a warm, wet smoothing that pushed away
the cold for a few moments, then the shock of cold metal against
his bare skin.
warm cleaning continued for a short time, he was wrapped tightly
in cloth and placed in the arms of his mother.
later, Zil found a nipple and drank in a new life that for the
moment pushed aside memories of Gix and the board.