Second Of Three, The One Between: Paandemic
First on my itinerary on this second day of November, I'd like to extend my condolences and utter shock in regard to the violent attacks of the recent few weeks, including the violent attack in Quebec.
These circumstances above all else, are a reminder that we should stand by our values in terms of acceptance with regard to the beliefs of others, and their differences from our own individual and collective beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be and live by our conscience, representation, due process and the rule of law.
Religion is a personal yardstick by which some of us choose measure our individual selves and should never be extended beyond our own person to others outside of our own religion. Human rights and law are what both enable us to cooperate and set our personal boundaries between those with differing beliefs to our own.
Though these are words often difficult to live by, they are and always should be our goal as peoples of the world in my own humble opinion. This includes everyone regardless of belief theists and atheists alike.
Its easier said than done sometimes and some of us, including myself can get a little "expressive" when it comes to our impatience with our social treatment by others.
The first step is respecting the individuality and independent identity of others as evidenced by their physical being and their civil and medical records. Any attempt to subvert this form of identity should be met with the swiftest and harshest of punishment by the law. Only then, will we discover the real culprit behind such sudden spawning of violence in our world society.
After a little research over the weekend, I found out that the origins of Halloween came from a Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in, with the letter m being silent). This festival began with midnight on November 1 and continued for the entire day. The significance of Samhain is that at this time of year, there's a conjunction between the planes of existence, allowing for magical extra-dimensional beings to make their way into our world. This effect peaks at noon, at which time it begins to recede again. So according to this custom, at this time of year, its somewhat more trivial for the magical inhabitants of other planes to cross over into ours.
This whole concept carries with it the idea that Halloween isn't just a single day, but a much larger span of time at which we're susceptible to the passage of these extra-dimensional beings such as faeries and spirits, who'd come into our world and wreak havoc upon us, culminating in their banishment by the magical shamans of the time.
My reason for bringing this up is more of an excuse for my tardiness in the writing of the two stories remaining. The ones I'd promised for Halloween. Well it would seem that you'll still get these stories and they'll be in the span of time we recognize as being the historical Halloween, otherwise known as Samhain.
Here is the second of three tales. This is a cautionary tale if anything at all.
Brian Joseph Johns
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Please do not read anything into this story, especially with its release on the day of the American Election. I'm Canadian and this is not related to the election at all. It is not any allusion to the outcome of the vote at all or any allegory based upon the candidates. This is certainly not any allusion to a belief that I myself am the Keeper, or any goat-headed demigod. It is merely a cautionary tale. I myself am not a luddite, neo-luddite, populist or neo-populist. I don't fall for the social bifurcation that polarizes society. Instead, I try to expose it. I certainly do not live by any reversal of love and hate, and never have. Regardless, this story is fiction.
Every day, I thank the keeper.
Every day, I thank the peace.
Now that the Keeper's gone.
Upon thy flesh I'll feast.
Ode to the keeper by old Jester
The six sat sullenly surrounding the fire, feasting upon the fresh fish Fergus had fetched from the seafood bins at the harbour front. A precarious spit they'd crafted out of discarded bicycle parts housed three rows of fish, fresh from earlier in the day when they'd raided the emptied shipping containers stored on the port at night. For them, this was like a royal banquet.
Harker himself had managed to find a couple of discarded boxes of potatoes and carrots, all because the receiving crew of the shipping container had sorted them as they'd taken them of the ship, full well knowing that the scrubbies living under the Gardener Expressway bridge nearby would raid them at their earliest convenience. For those working the port, it was like a sacrifice. Giving the devil his due, though the people they often called scrubbies were anything but.
They were a peaceful bunch, discarded by society or themselves at some point during their life, eventually finding their way to the Circle Of Fire. Sure, there were systems in place to house the homeless and those who simply didn't fit in with the rest of society. Those who found the Circle Of Fire didn't fit into anything that society could offer them at all. They'd even been discarded by those institutions put in place to help them, often of their own doing, though sometimes chased out by the younger arrivals. Sometimes by the workers themselves through politics. Some just didn't like the rules, or any rules for that matter. Like wounded animals, these discarded were often very sensitive due to their experiences, yet they'd managed to find a place and more importantly meaning, in the Circle Of Fire.
The Circle Of Fire was the place these discarded people founded. Most were older than thirty, and the oldest was ninety six. It was both a place of dwelling and the abode of those who'd found their way, as much as it was a purpose.
Sure, this population of mostly elders was vulnerable to society's policies with regard to their presence under the bridge, the environmental elements and had often in the past fallen prey to the younger and more aggressive of the homeless. That was until the Keeper had arrived.
The Keeper found them on March twentieth, in the year nineteen ninety nine, on the day of the spring equinox. He'd arrived with a large walking stick of six feet, his own height and the pack upon his back. His hair, mostly grayish white was long, drifting down beyond his shoulders and down to his upper chest, much like his moustache and beard. He wore an old brown waist length jean jacket and worn kaki pants, one of whose knees possessed a hole big enough for a squirrel to peruse. His shoes were brand new, a pair of white Converse he'd found recently in a dumpster.
He sat himself beside the old timers at the edges of the burning metal garbage can they simply referred to as the fire.
"Howdy stranger. What's your name?" Fergus, a man in his late forties spoke first.
"My name is not important so much as my preparations" the stranger replied.
"You have Preparation H? I could really use some of that. Sitting on these cold aluminum benches for so long has really given me a bad case if ya know what I mean!" Jester grinned and laughed, revealing a nearly toothless smile.
The stranger remained silent as he fished into his backpack and pulled forth a small leathery bag, from which he pinched a handful of an unknown substance.
"What is that you got there? Is it smoking tobacca? I could use a smoke" Harker stood, trying to see better what was in the stranger's hand.
The stranger stood and threw the handful he'd pulled from the bag into the fire and that's when things got strange.
The flames suddenly jumped to a height of fifty feet, barely scorching the highway overpass. As the flames jumped, the lights in the entire city dimmed and flickered, as if there was an electrical short. The birds had taken to the late evening air, their black silhouettes blotting out the sky around them.
"Holy jumpin' mister! You didn't have to vandalize our fire! Why doncha just skedaddle now! Find another place to perform your mischief." Fergus stood, challenging the stranger.
"He damned near scared me to death! He should leave!" Natta, a gray haired Croatian lady and one of the only three women who lived at the Circle Of Fire spoke up.
Some of the others who'd been sleeping in their tents had arrived at the fire.
"You want us to throw him out Fergus?" asked Bernie, a hefty beared man in his mid thirties asked.
The stranger spoke in a hushed secretive voice, pulling another handful of dust and dried leaves from another satchel in his backpack.
This time Fergus stood.
"Hold on a second there mister! You're not going throw any more of your mischief onto our fire! Go and find your own place and leave us be, or you're going to find yourself subject to a lynchin'!" Fergus signalled to Bernie to stop the stranger.
Bernie walked around the fire towards the stranger as the stranger once again tossed the mysterious reagents into the fire.
The fire once again exploded in height, this time reaching the overpass and burning under it for nearly thirty seconds.
As Bernie arrived at the stranger, he suddenly clutched at his chest, as if he were about to have a heart attack. He suddenly fell to the ground, writhing and squirming like a snake. Natta at the other side of the fire fell forward onto the ground doing much the same. Harker and seven of the others followed suit, all of them screaming in pain as they danced on their backs on the dirt.
"What have you done to them?!!" Fergus stood, backing away from the stranger as others from the camp started fleeing.
"I told you, I am preparing you for the day that is to come" the stranger spoke slightly raising his voice above the level of cacophony around them.
Fergus watched as the dirt dance continued, Natta writhing in ways he'd not believed possible for the human body.
Above each of the dirt dancers, a tiny dark cloud appeared, expanding until it nearly matched their approximate size. Fergus looked closer and each of the dark clouds was a twisted caricature of the bodies from which they'd sprung forth.
Fergus looked towards the one that had emerged from Bernie's body, and it looked back at him, visibly cursing and spitting at him. Then, all at once, these darkened cloud dopplegangers were sucked into the fire, their screams suddenly audible, even above the sirens that had emerged throughout the city to deal with the apparent electrical crisis.
As the last doppleganger disappeared, the fire returned to its former serene and calming size. The lights throughout the city stabilized and everything returned to normal.
Fergus looked to the dirt dancers, who lay still and calm, a smile upon each of their faces.
"What did you do to them?" Fergus asked.
"I rid them of their parasites" the stranger sat back down on the bench.
"I saw... I know who he is!" Bernie spoke, still smiling.
"He's the Keeper!" Natta lay still and calm, as if seeing the stars through the overpass and the light pollution for the first time since her childhood.
From that moment. The fire became the Circle Of Fire, and the stranger had become the Keeper.
Fergus was the first to truly befriend the Keeper, each earning the other's respect and this trust was paid in the sharing of sacred knowledge between them. The Keeper had always insisted that these were preparations for that which was to come. A time in the near future which would find the downtrodden rise to become the saviours of humanity. Despite his tall claims, since upon his arrival, witnessing the paranormal display, the denizens of the camp believed him, following him loyally. They regarded him as a lost messiah ready to change their situation and the world. Of course they wouldn't understand the responsibility that entailed until Hallow's Eve, more than six months later in the year nineteen ninety nine.
On that night, the Keeper had prepared them for a ritual which he'd claimed to be of great importance. A sacred ritual still practiced by the surviving descendants of the first Druids and Aboriginal Shaman around the world for Hallow's Eve was more than anyone in the modern world could have known. The Keeper himself had called it the Abyssal Planar Conjunction, though few in the camp would not understand what that entailed until later that same evening.
There the seniors of their camp had formed a circle around the fire. There were six of them in all, with the Keeper as one of the six and their guide. The remaining thirty six members of their camp formed an outer shell, joining hands and containing the inner circle about six feet behind each member of the interior.
At at three minutes before midnight, the Keeper began to chant in a language unfamiliar to any of them. They listened silently, perhaps enthralled as each minute withered away and disappeared into the past, bringing them another closer to midnight.
"It's gettin' warm out here! I can feel it in my shoes!" Old Jester remarked aloud.
"Shush! The Keeper's concentratin' he is! This is important!" Harker shot back.
"There's little demons running about! I just saw one! Within the inner circle!" Old Jester said in a shaky voice.
"You're full of malarky and cooking wine Jester! There's nothing..." Gavin, one of the younger members of the camp responded.
"No. I just saw them too." Harker spoke in amazement.
Natta, who stood with those of the inner circle opened her eyes to see a horrid sight.
A little man, about two feet tall with orange skin, hoofed feet and two sharpened horns was running around within the circle, furiously trying to get out.
"Do not break from the circle no matter what, any of you. If you do, you free them upon humanity." the Keeper spoke in a commanding voice.
"What if they nibble on our ankles or our thighs? What then?" Jester asked in terror.
"You hold fast and do not move." the Keeper replied calmly.
"Look! There's three of them now!" Harker exclaimed, joining the rising panic.
"Hold fast!" the Keeper spoke above the fervor.
"Natta! Natta! I'm your kid, the one of which you got rid! Let me out or I'll scream and shout!" one of the little men exclaimed before Natta, spitting at her feet.
"No! No! It can't be..." Natta began to weep.
"Fergus! Fergus! How you ran! You took all the money from my coffee can! Settle up and be a man!" one of them kicked Fergus in the shin.
"Fred? Is that you? It wasn't me! I swear. I always did right by you! I always paid the shelter on time! I swear! I didn't take no money from your coffee can!" Fergus pleaded his innocence to a beast that pay him no heed.
It was purely focused on getting beyond their circles and out into the world.
The last one focused on Gerome, one of the elders of the inner circle. It ran over to him, sensing the ails of his conscience.
"Gerome! Gerome! You have no home! You watched old Ronny writhe and shiver! You gave him his last drink knowing of his bad liver! Now he's dead because of you! Step aside and pay your due!" the little devilish man yipped at Gerome.
"I swear I didna know of Ronny's liver. We all took our chances and drank our pain away! I didna kill Ronny!" Gerome's eyes began to tear.
"Stay your ground, Gerome! These foul creatures will say whatever it takes to get beyond the doorway and through us. They're here to clear the way for something much more sinister..." the Keeper advised them.
As he spoke, a menacing face appeared in the plume of smoke rising from the fire.
"...and so we meet again Theramata Corviss, though I doubt you'd remember our last encounter several of your lifetimes ago," a large billowing voice came forth from the sinister face.
"I do not recall that name nor that time. I only know of my purpose here and now. You will find no entry to this world on my watch." the Keeper said defiantly.
"Then you shall fall, for I will find another vessel through which to carry out my will. The gate shall I cross and your world will become mine. We shall meet again upon your end," the voice spoke, trailing off into silence.
The three little men jumped into the fire, causing it to peak at twenty feet momentarily, after which it returned to its norm.
"They will use any element of your being and your conscience to get into our world, and they can read all of you. They know your hopes and your fears. Those are the puppet strings by which you'll be played. The more anticipated the hope, the more tender the fear, the more likely you'll rear and flee. You've all run from something. Forgive one another and be at peace with yourselves for there is more at stake than you can fathom. Your weakness is his strength," the Keeper told them.
Twenty Six Years Later
In the year twenty twenty five, the world had changed as much since nineteen ninety nine as it had from one hundred years previous until the late nineteen nineties.
Every inch of the globe was covered by satellite based communication. The world economy was equally information based when compared to natural resources, industry and service. For the first time in history, more of the work force was automated than human and the disparity between the rich and the poor had never been greater. The middle class had all but nearly ceased to exist. Humanity had been sorted out by the changes to economy brought about by technology, which had outpaced the policies that protected the previous workforce, instead slowly replacing them with automation.
Many of those from the workforce had managed to advance their training and became engineers or technicians, both designing and servicing the very technology that had replaced their former careers. Others had missed that boat altogether, losing their employment and struggling to keep themselves from falling into poverty.
Within the ranks of the impoverished the situation was dire, for there existed movements of the Luddites, those that saw technology as the devil of legend. That all of the current ills of humanity had arisen because of technology. Their impact upon the world was already disastrous and was only getting worse.
Secretly, they'd formed coalitions that would sabotage any work done with technology. Those from the workforce who tried to salvage their former careers and build their own information based businesses were often the first targets of these Luddites. They'd operate in secret gangs, using technology to fight technology and those trying to earn an honest living from it. As more of the former middle class workforce fell into poverty and had their attempts to rebuild sabotaged by the Neo-Luddites, there arose a very powerful movement against the rich and the privileged: the Neo-Populists.
Most of the working middle class had never seen this coming, and those of this group who'd fallen into poverty only to have their attempts to rebuild sabotaged by the Neo-Luddite and Neo-Populist movements suddenly began themselves to wonder if there wasn't a conspiracy by the rich and the elite against the poor. The Neo-Luddites and Neo-Populists were inadvertently filling their own ranks with their own impoverished victims.
As the resent grew and violence throughout the world became more frequent, the Circle Of Fire kept their vigil.
The Keeper, now into his seventies had lead the camp since his arrival twenty six years previous. Most of all of the elders were still alive. All except Gerome, whose liver had finally given out two years earlier, one dark night after he'd consumed the entirety of a bottle of spirits. Others too had passed on, but the inner circle still lived and performed their yearly duty for an unknowing and unappreciative world.
The Keeper had selected Edward, a fifty six year old new arrival into their camp since Gerome had passed. Edward was to replace Gerome in the Circle Of Fire. Edward was well read and had become good friends with Fergus, who very much enjoyed many long conversations with Edward.
Their numbers in the camp had also grown more than they'd lost over the years and they were now approaching ninety in population. Their sprawling camp covered all of the land beneath the overpass and the city had come to accept their presence, unsure of what to do about them.
One of the Councillors, Councillor Synthia Barret had a heart for the plight of the homeless and specifically those who'd fallen through the cracks in the system and were living on the streets. Councillor Barret had lobbied many times to seek funding to have these outcasts housed, only to find a fierce opposition that associated the homeless with the rising Neo-Luddite and Neo-Populist movement. As time wore on, these issues eroded the trust between the poor and the rich and the elected officials representing them.
Further complicating the matter, there had been a rise in terror attacks throughout the world for which these groups were increasingly taking responsibility. Those sitting on the sidelines of this conflict had increasingly become targets, as if someone or something was trying to sort them out. As a result, society had become extremely polarized and few found balance or compromise.
"You do know that they'll eventually come for us, don't you?" Edward suggested to Fergus.
"They've only come to this camp once, looking for a murder suspect. They ain't never harmed us and we don't make trouble for them. We cooperate as best we can. That's always been the way. We're different from the shelters. We don't get no funding and nobody lords over us. We're no man's land and we're neutral to this other nonsense. Ain't no good come of conflict like that, and none ever will." Fergus advised Edward.
"That may have worked in the past, but times are different. Change is coming and we'd better get on the right side of the fence before it does, or we might end up history ourselves." Edward responded to Fergus.
"We only have but one duty to the world. We're to keep the gates and make sure none of the otherworldly critters come through. That's all!" Fergus reminded Edward.
"I nothing but admire your tenacity Fergus. You're a truly good fellow," Edward smiled and offered his hand.
There was an awkward moment of tension and Fergus accepted, shaking Edward's hand firmly.
"Your point has been duly noted," Fergus offered the most he could.
Later that evening, Cecil, one of the younger campers had come running over to the fire. He carried with him a small computer tablet, which he'd charge during the day with a solar cell.
"Check this out! This is serious!" he handed the tablet to the Keeper who accepted it, looking to the screen.
A news story played out that three of the city Councillors, including Councillor Barret, the one who'd always protected them, had been killed in a recent terror attack carried out by the Neo-Luddites. A twenty nine year old man had run into city council, thrown himself at the table where Councillor Barret and two others were seated. He'd blown himself up, triggering a home-made explosive device with which he'd lined his jacket. The news report went on to cite that the terrorist was a homeless man acting on behalf of the Neo-Luddite movement. The perpetrator was also killed in the explosion.
The Keeper handed the tablet back to the excited camper, who accepted it, immediately pocketing it protectively as if it had suddenly become blessed. The rest of the camp anxiously waited for the Keeper to say something. Anything. Yet his words were not forthcoming. Instead he walked over to his tent and turned in for the night.
The next morning and the preparations for Hallow's Eve had begun, for the day was October thirty first in the year twenty twenty five. The Keeper arose at eight in the AM as he'd always done and prepared himself an herbal tea from the bottled water he'd kept. He then sat himself before the fire, slowly and deliberately drinking from his mug.
"Fergus." the Keeper said without looking in his direction.
"Yes?" Fergus responded, coming over to the fire and taking a seat beside him.
"I want you to ready Edward for my job. He's young enough and is somewhat of a prodigy. My end is coming and my time here will soon be done. Can you do this for me?" the Keeper asked.
"If that is your wish, then consider it done. Why do you say your time is at an end?" Fergus asked.
"There is a beginning. There is a middle. There is an end. Within each, there's a beginning, middle and end as well, ad infinitude. I've lived through the beginning. I've experienced the middle. I've lived the beginning and middle of the end. Now I'm at that last stage and near the final curtain. Someone else must continue this, or we'll all be done. I've done all I can in this world, and the most I've done is to know my place and remain faithful to it. That I've done. It is now time for someone else to take over. That will be all." the Keeper explained to Fergus, who considered it carefully.
Fergus himself had avoided thinking about his own mortality for most of his life. He'd always assumed that it would come unbeknownst to him and all of the sudden. One moment fully alive, the next moment simply gone. As such it was something he'd never feared until confronted with the Keeper's own admission of his mortality.
Fergus had regarded the Keeper as immortal. A force of nature and beyond the rules allowed for mere mortals. He'd introduced their lives to purpose and meaning and all this despite their lot in life. They now felt important and considered themselves a needed part of humanity. They'd developed a sense of dignity, something that none of them had experienced in all of their lives and now the one who'd introduced them to this was taking his permanent leave from them. For the first time in decades, Fergus felt both despair and a sense of hope. He would do as the Keeper instructed and guide Edward to become the next Keeper.
The day passed quickly and there was a sullen silence in the camp. At nine o'clock they feasted as they had every Hallow's Eve, upon the take of fish and vegetables they'd managed to salvage from the port.
As the time approached three minutes to midnight, they took their places in the circle. Six of them in the inner circle, all the seniors of their camp. The remaining eighty four of them held hands and formed the outer circle, whose diameter dwarfed the inner circle by and far.
The Keeper began his chant and the three minutes became two minutes and then one. Then, midnight arrived.
All at once the three tiny men sprang forth from the fire and they each began looking for a weakness in the circle and all held fast against them.
The smoke billowed from the fire and a sinister yet familiar face appeared.
"You still bar the way? That will end today" the face spoke at the Keeper.
"You will find that this day will be the same as all others past. You will try and fail, while we will all prevail, together," the Keeper said confidently.
"That is where you are wrong. I have a new ally and he stands amongst you. Have you made preparations for me my ally?" asked the voice.
"Yes, I have. We are ready for you to lead us to victory against our common foe," Edward replied.
"Edward! You have fallen into the clutches of this deceiver!? I beg you, don't break the circle!" the Keeper stood fast.
"No. You are the deceiver foolish old man. You have stood on the sidelines and watched technology and the rich devour our world! They will pay, with the help of our new ally. Isn't that right Paan?" Edward addressed the Keeper, and then the face in the smoke.
"That is correct, assuming the sacrifice has been made?" Paan spoke, addressing Edward.
"It has but once, a fallen drunk. It has but twice, a Councillor's life. Next comes thrice, betrayal's own device," Edward answered.
The Keeper kept his place, tossing a handful of herbs at Edward. He screamed as the cloud of herb touched his skin, igniting him, yet holding him in place so that the circle remained unbroken.
"I am sorry Edward. You were warned. I cannot allow this circle to be broken..." the Keeper spoke as a gunshot rang out through the night.
The Keeper looked down to see a large hold in the center of his chest. The round had come in through his spine, severing it and proceeded through his breast plate, shattering it. He moaned and sputtered, trying to speak before he fell to dirt, dead.
Fergus stepped into the circle and it was broken.
The fire suddenly exploded and a tremendous gaping wound in the Earth opened. A goat headed man, twelve feet tall stepped up and through the hole entering into a world from which it had long been banished.
"Keepers of the Circle Of Fire, your fate is sealed. Now I shall help my allies, the Neo-Luddites and the Neo-Populists realize their goals and mine." Paan spoke harshly as he stepped forward using a tremendous walking stick to stabilize himself.
"Fergus, you shall be my first..." Paan waved his walking stick and all of humanity were transformed, beginning with Fergus.
He and a few others in the camp became large haggardly looking wolves, while everyone else in the camp became sheep. Throughout the world this transformation occurred everywhere. The Neo-Luddites and the Neo-Populists all became wolves, and their targets, the recently unemployed, the rich and the elite became sheep.
"Let the Paandemic be revealed and the feast begin!" Paan declared.
Fergus snarled and leapt, tearing at the throat of one of the sheep. It cried in horror as it fell to become food for the beast.