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Into the Dark Places

by on September 29, 2015

Merrick was used to the silence of cities. His trade routes south passed by several abandoned places, where vines wound up through sidewalks and ivy shrouded over crumbling ruins. He had never grown up hearing the constant roar of traffic, or the wailing of sirens, or the thunder of planes flying overhead, so he didn’t miss it. The silence in the dead city, however, unnerved even him. There were no sounds of birds, or the skittering of small animals, or even the faint whine of annoying insects. There were no vines crawling up buildings either. It was all concrete smashed into rubble, as far as he and Margaret could see.

She didn’t seem to much care, at first. She marched straight forward, down the buckled streets, towards one of the few buildings still standing. Merrick, seeing the slope of the domed roof, wondered if it had been some sort of temple. He ventured this suggestion to Margaret. “No,” she said shortly. “Not nearly that. It was where the politicians met.”

“The….”

Margaret sighed. “You know our camp meetings? Where we decide things? People met here to decide things for the whole land roundabouts. That was the idea. It didn’t always work. But they tried.”

The doors hung open, gaping like open wounds. They crept cautiously through the dark corridors, into the depths of the building. Merrick lit a torch as they got further inside, beyond the reach of the sunlight. Finally, Margaret stopped at a metal door that wouldn’t open to her. She waved Merrick back, then raised her hands. The door dissolved in a blast of golden light.

They advanced into a room cluttered with crates and workbenches. In the corner was what Merrick initially assumed was a larger metal crate. He would have compared it to a phone booth, had he been at all familiar with the concept. Phones had died out a long time before.

Margaret pulled on one side, and a door creaked open. “This,” she said, “is something else we tried. It’s a time machine.”

“A what?”

“It lets you go back in time, and change it.”

“How?” Merrick asked.

Margaret shrugged. “I asked the man who built it. Tachyon slip-streams, parallel realities, multiverses, take your pick. I could give you a lecture on the theory, but trust me, it works. I watched the Battle of Fort McHenry from the deck of a British ship. Tasted gunpowder. Saw the flag. It works.”

Merrick, naturally, was unfamiliar with that historical episode. Stockpiling resources to last through the winter, and the spring storms, took up more time than he could afford to spend studying battles of a vanished country. He gave a noncommittal shrug. “So, you go back-”

“Not me. You.”

Merrick blinked. “Me?”

“The thing runs on atomic power. I’ve got to fire it up. That means you get to go back.”

Others in his position would’ve protested. Merrick was a person of stolid duty. “Fine. What do I do?”

“It’s simple,” Margaret said. “I’m going to send you back to the point when I destroyed the world. You’ve just got to stop me doing it.”

“Ma’am,” Merrick said respectfully, “You melted a solid metal door a moment ago. How do I-”

“Well, I suppose you could try patient diplomatic reasoning,” Margaret suggested. “Or you could just hit me over the head with a stick. Whichever works.”

“Fine,” Merrick said again. “Might as well get to it, then.”

At Margaret’s direction, he stepped into the metal box. The door creaked shut beyond him. Margaret did something outside, and there was a flash. A panel lit up before Merrick, and on that panel a large red button glowed dimly. Merrick sighed, wondered what he had gotten himself into, and pushed it. He didn’t pause to reflect on the metaphysical ramifications of what he was doing. He probably should have done.

This story is part of the Megverse, my experiment with dystopia and the hero’s journey.

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From → 8. The Megverse

4 Comments
  1. Can’t wait to read further

  2. You’ve hooked me, Michael. I enjoy your animal fantasy pieces, but this string of stories is showing me how talented you are at pacing and human characterization.

  3. Your overall pacing for this series is great. I get irritated with you because I want to know what happens next, but I don’t think you are stringing us along. Each episode reveals a bit more of the characters and moves us along.

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  1. yeah write #233 challenge winners

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