Archive for the ‘Hard Coal Studios’ Category

Almost forgot to post this. Four years ago today I started the Great American Road Trip. With my now departed car (my Pontiac) I spent five weeks on the road traveling from Pennsylvania to California then to the Jersey shore then home. Saw both oceans on this trip. Some of it was a lot of fun, but some of it, specifically going back to South Dakota/the rez/Rapid City was real heavy for me. It was one of the best things I did in my life. My friend Tom encouraged me to write it out once I got home while I could still remember everything. So last year I self published this piece. I decided to do a 40% of sale for the 4th anniversary and in honor of my old car I just got rid off that made the whole trip.

You can buy the book here.









This is my new webcomic Righteous Hands. Art by James Emmett.



Inside a floating library a small book was closed and placed on a table. The massive lungs of its reader let out heavy sigh. Below the four frosted globes that lit the room was a puzzled face with a light sweat on its brow.

The door slid open and a man in a turban and blue uniform entered. “Last Man No More” he said. “A rather peculiar choice this evening?”

“It’s… it’s fascinating.” said his companion.

“Indeed it is.” answered Captain Nemo. “You and I are among the few people who’ve ever read it.”

“You knew Mary Shelley?”

“As a young man I was educated in Europe, and had the opportunity to meet her but once. She was very talented writer. This piece is one of the last books I acquired from the world above. It was intended only for the foul members of that blasted Illuminati of which I regrettably was a member.”

The reader asked in a hesitant voice “What do you think of this, this Cumean Sybil?”

“There’s not much to know. The legend is she was an oracle of Apollo, and that she offered to sell nine books of prophecy to a king. The king refused because of the price she asked. In response she burned three of the books then repeated the offer for the same price. The king refused again and three more books were burned. Finally the king gave in, buying the three remaining books for the original price.

“I mean do you think this story is true?”

“It was true for her. Of course there’s no way to verify it. Before I left the surface world, I learned she met a very tragic end.”

“I see. Is it possible this story is just a literary trick on her part?”

“As I said I only met her briefly, but she did not strike me as having a dishonest disposition. I sense this story greatly troubles you. You should not worry about it. It’s been some time since I’ve read those tales. As disturbing as they may be, if I remember correctly they take place long from now. If she was telling the truth, then those horrific events will occur long after both you and I are long from this world.”

“Yes perhaps you are right.” the reader said. His eyes remained locked on the book. His hands barely resisted the urge to open it and pour over its contents again.

“Goodnight my friend.” Captain Nemo exited the library. He received no reply.

Far below the ocean’s surface, inside the steel whale known as the Nautilus, the Frankenstein creature lay restless. A disturbing thought would not flee from his mind. When he read of the amazing creature from Mary Shelley’s tale, could he have been reading about himself?

The End

With acknowledgements to:

Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, 1818.

The Last Man, by Mary Shelley, 1826

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne 1870

The Crosso-verse of the future will continue in The Last Vampire!

The sun rose the next morning and I opened my eyes to see a small group of people, maybe twenty or so, about the size of our group of captors. For a moment I thought I was dreaming, as if I were back with my sister and my dear friends. Only the ropes that bound my hands reminded me of my current state. I’d been cut from the tree in my sleep, and was placed beside Mary to the side of the mount. The crowd gathered below, as Sophia came to the top of the mount to speak.

“Greetings my friends.” She began warmly. “We have gathered you together this day, to offer our warmth, our security, some much needed supplies, but also something much more important.” She continued with much enthusiasm. “We all know the plague that ravished this planet. That is why you’ve been in hiding, living like rats in the darkness. Even those of us alive have still suffered from its ravishes. We’ve lost friends, loved ones. I myself lost my own family to it. But we must leave that in the past. We the meek have inherited this Earth, and it is our duty to rebuild the kingdom of humanity! But what of the plaque you ask? What of it? From the heavens we have been sent a sign”. Motioning to Aliquis she boasted “Behold, this creature has been sent to us, with the power to cure the plaque.” I must confess she had a mesmerizing presence. If I was in that crowd I too would probably long to follow her lead.

“She certainly knows how to stir a crowd.” I said to Mary, who was tied up next to me.

“Yes, she does. Ever since we were children, she always knew how to put on a show.”

Then some women brought little Michelle up to the mount. Sophia motioned to her and the child stood at her side. Placing her arm around her Sophia said “This child just yesterday was suffering from the plague. Near death she was until she found this miracle, and here she is before you a happy healthy child.”

“Why do you tied your miracle to a tree?” yelled out a man from the crowd. “He doesn’t look like he wants to be there.”

“This creature has been sent to us, and suffers to remove our sickness. He can barely stand as he has shouldered the burden that has crushed civilization into the ground.”

“Why should we believe any of this?” said a woman in the crowd.

“I shall show you why.” As she gestured to the side a man covered in robes and a grey hood approached. He walked slowly and was trembling. Standing by Sophia he revealed his face which was covered in some kind of rash. I couldn’t see too clearly from my vantage point but as best I could tell he looked very sickly.

“We found this man when we arrived in Vohburg yesterday, alone, frightened, abandoned by all and ravished by sickness. We promised we would help him, if only we allowed him to show others the miracle we’ve found. He has been waiting patiently, and now it is time”

Now talking to the man he said “Go my friend, go and be well again.”

Slowly he crept toward Aliquis. He knelt down at his feet and lay still for a moment. Then he stood up, and slowly returned to Sophia. Standing at her side again, he looked at her, and Sophia was astonished. He pulled his hood down again and his face appeared fully healed. Gone was the rash and any signs of sickness. The crowd gasped audibly, and Sophia cried out triumphantly “Behold the miracle we have found!”

“I know him!” I said angrily to Mary. I couldn’t believe it. The man that was kind to me, he was an impostor just like the rest of them. John finally found his audience.

The crowd erupted and rushed up the mount. Some of them carried children that appeared to be sick. Others appeared to have other injuries, broken bones, one was blind. “Wait wait, one at a time.” Sophia tried controlling them but they continued rushing. Solomon shot wildly into the crowd which now erupted in fear.

“Solomon what are you doing!” Sophia called out. He answered by striking her in the head with the butt of his gun. She fell to the ground unconscious.

Solomon fired into the crowd again. “Alright you maggots I’m in charge here. You’re going to…” He ducked immediately as someone threw a stone his way. He never considered that some of the crowd might be armed too, as some of them began firing back. With the flash of a gun barrel miniature warfare broke out before me. The survivors fighting the cult, Solomon’s contingent fighting those loyal to Sophia. It was a shocking sight to me. Finally to see others, and this was the result. Their facial expressions betrayed the nature of man. I swear people of all three groups were smiling. They enjoyed the maiming, the killing, the brutality. When I was a lad I lived in brutality in order to survive, but as an adult was happy to live a life without it. Heartbreaking it was to know those before me did not share the same sentiment.

What no one noticed in all of this was little Shelly, who slipped away with Sophia’s knife in her hand. Swiftly she ran over to Aliquis and cut him free from the tree. His large body collapsed to the ground. Little Michelle kneeled at his side and placed her hand on his wound. Aliquis placed his massive hand over hers and the two looked at each other a moment.

Solomon’s hand grabbed Michelle by the back of the neck and tossed her aside. “Get out of here little bitch!”

“Shelly!” Her mom ran towards her. Our hands were still bound but no one was watching us in the commotion. I ran behind Mary as Solomon reached for the machete attached to his belt. While he did this Aliquis swiftly struck him in the face.

Mary and I both reached Michelle. She was ok. She still had the knife and cut our hands free. Meanwhile Solomon swung a kick to the wounded side of Aliquis. Our new friend fell to the ground as Solomon raised his blade into the air. As his one arm came down Aliquis did some technique where he wrapped his own legs in Solomon’s and grabbed his arm as it came down. With one motion he rolled his opponent to the ground and followed with a punch to the face. He slammed Solomon’s arm into the ground forcing him to release his grip on the machete. The part of his arm that still remained reached over Aliquis’s and the brute bit into him with his teeth. Aliquis yelled in pain as his opponent got some small measure of revenge. A knee to his wounded gut followed and Aliquis was pushed to the side on his back.

One thing I recalled from my more violent youth, is to never rely too much on weaponry, if you can finish someone with your bare hands you should. Solomon made the mistake of reaching for his blade, which resulted in giving his back to his opponent. Aliquis immediately reached over and wrapped his arms around Solomon’s neck. Solomon managed to bring the blade back to lightly pierce Aliquis’s shoulder. Aliquis screamed a mixture of pain and rage, but it was too late for his opponent, whose neck was snapped in a second.

Aliquis took no time to gloat as he stood up and took the bloody blade. Sophia had come to, and Aliquis spotted her. He ran toward her swinging the blade into the air yelling. “Time to meet your maker bitch!” In a second her eyes widened in fear and she raised her arms up while cowering before him. The blade sliced down through the air when Michelle stepped in between them. The blade stopped inches before her forehead.

“Stop!” She yelled. “Stop don’t kill her!”

“You spineless wench she threatened your daughter!”

“And killing her won’t make anything right!”

She knelt down to Sophia’s side. Sophia had a light gash on the side of her head, but it wasn’t serious. They both looked out over the mound to see everyone still fighting. Tears came to Sophia’s eyes as she said “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Mary please forgive me. Help me so it doesn’t end like this.”

This needed to end. I stood at the top of the mount and shouted “Stop! Stop this madness! Stop!” It was useless, the people just kept on fighting. I jumped in incredible fright as an inhuman roar erupted behind me. It was from Aliquis. He stood beside me and when he finished making his beastly noise he looked to me and nodded. A slight smirk escaped his face. I looked back out over the crowd and now had everyone’s attention.

For a moment I was at a loss for words, but then began. “Only three days ago I’d wandered this continent believing I was the Last Man. I’d have given anything just to find one more person. Finally I see not one, but so many before me. And what are we doing when we are finally together? Fighting and killing each other. I don’t want to believe that the only way to peace is for me to again be the last man.”

“They started it!” One of them countered. “We we’re at peace until they arrived. They’re the ones who came here with guns and violence.”

Some of the cult members raised their arms again and for a moment it looked as though the conflict would reignite. Sophia stood to my side. “Stand down! Stand down everyone. We’ve all been blind, all of us. When we returned from Paris we failed to realize the truth. Our leader was an imposter. We just wanted to maintain order, but for what?” Speaking to the others she continued. “It was wrong of me to try to deceive and rule over you.” Slightly kneeling down she said “I submit myself to you. We have food and supplies. We’ll help you in any way we can. Let us redeem ourselves for the wrong we’ve done.”

Tension remained in the air, but the peace was maintained. Sophia said to her group “Let’s get our supplies. We have a few medical supplies. Let’s tend to anyone who is sick. We also have food. Let us all eat together in peace.”

Suddenly we heard a slight thud. “Aliquis!” Michelle called out. He’d fallen to the ground. The wound to his side was still fresh and his blood spilled into the ground. Mary, Michelle, Sophia and I rushed to his side. Sophia noticed the wound. “Shelly, can you give me my knife?” Michelle went to give her the blade, but Mary held her back a moment.

“For God’s sake let me gause his wound!”

After hesitating for a moment Mary said “It’s ok Shelly.” Michelle gave the knife to Sophia who immediately tore a long piece of material from the bottom of her dress.

She knelt down besides Aliquis. Her hands trembled as she said “I’m going to try to help you. Can you help me wrap you up?” Aliquis groaned as he pushed his hips up, allowing Sophia to wrap the material around his waist. She tied it and put pressure on the wound. “We have some medical supplies. I’ll try to help you as best I can.”

I’ll be fine.” Aliquis said while coughing up some blood.

“Dammit man stop being so stubborn let her help you.” I said in frustration.

“Mr. Aliquis!” Shelly knelt down besides Sophia and next to her new friend. She placed her hands on his wound. “You made me feel better.”

“Be good to your mom kid.” Aliquis said coughing. “You’re lucky to…have… one of those…”

He then closed his eyes. Shelly called out “Mr. Aliquis!” Tears were shed as she pressed down on his wound with her little hands. Sophia lightly placed her arms on her shoulders saying “Come on Shelly. Let’s go.”

“No.” She cried out.”

Her mother then came to her side. “It’s ok Shelly. There’s nothing you can do.”


Suddenly his lungs rapidly expanded and contrasted. He opened his eyes and let out another painful groan. Little Michelle’s face burst into a smile. Aliquis lightly raised her hand and brushed her face. “You made me feel better kid.”

He looked at the other faces before him. “You look scared. Huh. Do I look like I’m a threat?”

Sophia answered, “We’ll, I’m afraid of you being a man of your word.”

“A man.” Aliquis let out a small painful laugh. “Very few people have ever called me a man. I can tell I will not need to turn you inside out.”

And this was the true end of the cult of the imposter. The last branch of it snuffed out, it’s members rejoined with what was left of humanity.

And this brings us to the end of the tale of the no longer Last Man. Presuming only you of my inner circle shall ever read it, I hope it brings some illumination to your church of learning. I should especially thank my friend, Max Sutor, for encouraging me to push beyond the gruesomeness to the end of this tale.

In the event that someone outside my inner circle reads this, then firstly I apologize for any distress this tale has caused you. But again I swear to the heavens I merely served as a translator to the leaves of Cumean Sybil. My mind could never conjure the dark hallowed imagery and violence that accompanied this book, and this tale gave nowhere near the pleasure I’d found in writing The Last Man.

And if you are reading this as someone who I do not know of, or even someone outside the Perfectiblists, you may be curious to know of the other Cumean prophecies outside this tale. You may find it unfortunate that, unlike The Last Man and this particular tale, they were much shorter and in some cases very vague. One prophecy I recall was “A steel whale piloted by no one.” My companions spent hours contemplating it. Like scripture they offered many interpretations, especially regarding philosophical implications of “no one.” While piecing together various fragments occasionally others were brought in to see them. I recall once meeting Prince Dakkar of India. He was a handsome dashing young man with a mind for the field of engineering. Having little insight into the concept of no one, his mind lit up around the idea of a steel whale.

But alas, I have come to the end of writing of the leaves of Cumean Sybil. Whoever you may be, whether stranger or friend, may you find some enjoyment in this tale that I never could.

Our hands were bound and a rope connected the three of us at the waist. Mother and daughter called out to each other as Sophia carried little Michelle off to the carriage. It was no use resisting. We were hopelessly outnumbered. Before Sophia boarded her carriage Michelle reached out her tiny arms to her mother who cried “It’s ok baby. It will be all right.”

“Mr. Aliquis!” Michelle called out. Aliquis let out a slight grunt, but he was too weak and in to precarious a position to do anything.

That day we marched maybe ten kilometers. It was exhausting, and we were not allowed to speak. Maybe halfway into the journey everyone stopped to rest and we then had a small moment of privacy.

“Aliquis.” Mary whispered. He turned his head. “Will you be strong enough to fight by tomorrow?”

“I must rest.” he said quietly. “But by morning I should have some of my strength back.”

Then she turned to me and asked “If Shelly and I can get us out of these ropes, can you fight?”

“What are you thinking? You’re going to get us killed?”

“Yes or no.” she said impatiently, almost raising her voice.

“It’s been a while.”

Back to a whisper she replied “Well try to stay out of the way then.”

“That girl.” Aliquis said. He still looked very weak. “There’s something about her.”

“I know.” Mary said. “She’s my baby.”

Late in the afternoon we went through the town of Vohburg and finally stopped outside the Durnbucher forest. Sophia spied a small hillside and said “We’ll camp here.” The group stopped and began unpacking their belongings. May and I noticed the few men that were in the group set up camp apart from the women. I recalled from my time in Paris that there were more women in the group than men. Such was still the case, and they evidently still lived under very strict rules. Sophia approached us and undid the ropes at our waste. Looking around further she said “Tie Aliquis to that tree.” Two men took him to a tree atop the small hillside. Solomon followed eagerly behind. He smacked Aliquis in the back of the head and hurled some insults at him, and found great pleasure in seeing him tied to the tree.

“Where is my daughter!” Mary demanded.

Sophia approached her answering. “Mary, I know these are impossible circumstances. Please believe that I still consider you a friend.” She lightly held her cheek. “I could never separate the two of you. We’ll all eat together, like a family, like it used to be.”

“Just last night you tried to have us killed!”

“You ran away! I didn’t want you killed I just wanted you back!”

“You sent armed men and women after us. They shot at my daughter. MY DAUGHTER!”

“Dammit Mary I didn’t want you killed! I just wanted you to tell us where the survivors were.” She then began lowering her voice. “You know things are starting to fall apart. The men are getting restless. We need fresh blood among our members.”

“Fresh blood that you can order around. That’s always how it was with you!”

“I’ve heard enough of this.” Sophia waved her hand dismissing her. “Take her away.” Two women took her by the arms to the women’s camp.

“Even after the world ends you’re still trying to run it.” Mary yelled defiantly.

Sophia took a moment to collect herself, then ordered “You two,” Sophia pointed to two women on horseback, “scout the area, tell anyone you find to come to this hillside tomorrow morning. Tell them we have a miracle!” The two men rode off on horseback as the sun went down.

Now alone with Sophia she asked “Now you. You have to tell me about this friend of yours. What is he?”

“You dammed vulture! Why don’t you leave that woman and her child alone? What is the matter with you!”

Sophia answered patiently “Mary and I both know I would never harm that child. Now enough games, what of this Aliquis?”

The truth was bewildering to me, though I had no time to ponder it. “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me.”

“You heard how he spoke to me. Put together, walked before our grandparents were born. I’d thought Solomon had gone mad when he’d come back. I almost couldn’t believe him.” Looking up to Aliquis tied to the tree she continued “But just looking at him I can tell, There’s something ungodly miraculous about that creature. Now tell me where did he come from.”

“I swear to you I’d found him just the day before.” After briefly telling how I believed to be the Last Man, and how I’d found Aliquis under a pile of rubble she replied.

“I believe you, I do. What your saying is so impossible, but I know you’re telling me the truth.”

“You’re former leader was lying!” I responded angrily. “When I saw him in Paris he was hiding the effects of the plague. If there are more survivors out there, and they come here tomorrow, they’re going to find out the truth, that you’re fraud just like that he was.”

“I know he was a fraud!” I was stunned to hear this. “We were sent out on a scouting mission. I pleaded with him to allow my husband to accompany me. Since our son fell to the plaque we’d promised to always stay together, but the rules were strict. When we came back, it was too late.” She looked down and clutched her blade. “If the dammed plague hadn’t taken that impostor, I would have killed him myself.”

Trying to reason with her I said “We’ve all lost people. I lost my sister, all my friends. Please, don’t punish Mary for our losses. Ruling over more people under the same falsehoods won’t bring your family back.”

Looking up again at Aliquis she answered “Are you sure about that Lionel? Surely you saw how sick Shelly was, and today she is full of life! I confess that even I had doubts of the nature of this world, but seeing that creature, it simply cannot be explained!” The sun was setting as we stood in silence for a moment. Solomon approached and she ordered “Enough of this. Take him to the men’s camp.” Solomon grabbed me by the color and took me away.

Before we got to camp he motioned toward the top of the mount. There was Aliquis tied to the tree as if he were a criminal in a barbaric age. “Don’t think your friend will get you out of this one.” I could see the blood stained on his machete. “He’ll be lucky if he lives by morning.”

“Sophia won’t like that.”

He answered by spitting on the ground. “You think that concerns me? I’ll be running things soon. And that pretty thing you got your eye on, you’re gonna watch me take her. The rest of the men can have what’s left of her and her daughter.”

‘No!” I struggled to break free from his grip but it was useless. He drug me back to the men’s camp and tied me to a tree. “There you are, you can be just like your friend.” he said mockingly. He left me there not far from the campfire, that I was visible in the firelight so they could keep an eye on me. Apparently they took what was left of the deer Aliquis caught yesterday. The group used it to make a stew. They shared it together and for a moment were laughing and being jovial. It was as if I wasn’t even present. It burned my heart to have the companionship of other men so close, yet still unattainable. The hunger pangs in my stomach made the situation all the more dire.

“Well you do it then!” Solomon shouted.

“I’m just saying, Sophia ordered us to take care of him.” another voice replied.

“Well you go do it then!” Solomon shouted again.

“Ok I will I don’t mind at all. Good heavens you don’t have to shout.”

A man approached me with a small bowl in his hand. The meaty smell made my mouth water and my stomach cry out in desperation.

“Here you go friend.” Finally a spoon reached my lips. I gulped down its contents without taking a moment to savor them.

“Thank you.” I said after hurriedly swallowing another spoonful.

“Don’t rush now I wouldn’t want you to choke.” He was much kinder than the rest of the group.

Now more in my senses I took time to savor the third spoonful. “He’s always like that I’m afraid. I’m not much of a fighter myself but I couldn’t stand to see you starving here.”

“Thank you again.” I savored another spoonful.

“I’m John. Before the world went to hell I was an actor. Not much of an audience to act for now I suppose.” He gave me another spoonful as he said quietly  ”I have to ask you something. Who is this Aliquis friend of yours? He’s got everyone all riled up.”

“I wish I knew myself. I…”

“He’s had enough!” Solomon shoved John down before snatching the bowl away. Greedily he emptied the remaining contents in his mouth and licked his lips as he looked at me with a smile.

“Now there’s no need for that” John protested “I was just feeding him.”

“I said he’s had enough. You got a problem with that you can join him against that tree.”

“Who put you in charge anyway.”

“I did.” The other men behind him watched. “Tomorrow if anyone shows up, they’re gonna see that too.”

“You’ve been doing a lot of talk lately.” A shorter stouter man approached. “Don’t forget who’s hauled your crippled ass around today.”

“Is that right!”

“You’re not ready to take charge of this outfit. You never were.”

“And I guess you are Jake!” You always said you could take me with one hand. Let’s prove it.”

Just like that the men gathered around in a circle. The stouter man raised both his hands. I recognized his form, he’d obviously boxed as a youth. He darted around in the night throwing a few jabs. He was doing well against him, landing a few combinations I remembered from my more violent youth. But as an adult it was not a pleasing sight to me, even if Solomon was the recipient. “Stop fighting!” I desperately pleaded. Maybe Aliquis was right, that we were doomed to this fate. Perhaps by the sunset of the next day I will be the Last Man again.

Solomon leapt up into the air and did a spinning kick to Jake’s face that sent him reeling. Another kick to the back of the knee and a punch to the jaw and Jake was down. A kick to the kidney’s made Jake roll to his side and with one swift motion Solomon knelt down beside him and wrapped his one arm around Jake’s neck, choking him till he was red in the face.

The small group of men cheered in delight, with no care for who the victor was, there applause was for the mere presence of violence. “Tomorrow we’ll see who shows up.” Solomon boasted.” They’ll see who’s boss, then we’ll take the women. He looked at me with an evil smile on his face and finished. “All of them.”

There was another lustful applause as Solomon marched proudly over to me. “Stop fighting.” he said while giving me a punch to the stomach. I managed to stop myself from vomiting my dinner as he continued. “You might as well ask us to stop breathing. And if this bothers you wait till you see what I do to that pretty little AHHHHHHHH!!!”

Sophia emerged from the darkness, her right hand squeezing Solomon between his legs . Her other hand shoved a dirty sponge into his mouth and pressed him against me and the tree. I squirmed in discomfort but there was nothing else I could do. There was an overpowering stench from the sponge. I could not contain myself any further and vomited. Most of it hit the ground, but trials of food and stomach acid dripped down the stub of Solomon’s arm.

“You think it’s funny to feed him a sponge full of Vinegar.” She shouted. “And I saw that wound you made on his side. We found something with power over the plague and you only think of your pride.” Thankfully she stopped pressing on him. I breathed in heavily as I’d started to be smothered by his frame. “Now clean this mess up.’ Solomon began wiping his arm as Sophia smacked him square in the face. “I meant him you idiot!” He stared stupidly for a second. Before I knew it she ripped his shirt off and shoved it into his hands. “Clean him up!”

Begrudgingly he used the rags that once was his shirt to clean me off. “I’d ask you to feed him to but you’re probably too stupid to do that. John fill up a bowl and bring it to me.”

“Yes ma’am.” He politely responded.

“Now get out of my sight.” Solomon tossed his shirt to the ground and walked away. Soon John was back to hand Sophia another bowl. “Thank you John. When I’m done here I must speak with you. I have a job for you tomorrow” When he left I noticed the two women Sophia sent out earlier were back. Both were armed and were watching over us. “Can’t do anything right.” Sophia knelt down beside me and picked up the dirty shirt. There was some vomit still on my feet which she humbly wiped away. Rising back to her feet she brought some water to my lips. “Rinse your mouth out.” So strange it was to see this women I knew to be so cruel appear so mother like before me. “For what it’s worth.” she said as I spit the water out. “I give you my apologies.”

After taking another spoonful of stew I replied “There’d be nothing to apologize for if you’d left us alone.”

It made chills run up my spine to write these words. What would my mother, who championed for the rights of women, think of her own flesh and blood recording such dialogue. The savagery disturbed me to the point where it affected my dreams. I had nightmares of these evil men and their cruelty, their madness affecting my sleep. But for a moment I saw something even more frightening. A brief flashing moment of my dream revealed Aliquis tied to the tree. There was this horrible creature that haunted this tale, and the worst part was, I’d seen it before.

During one summer, long before writing the Last Man, I’d spent a holiday with a group of close friends. One summer night began telling stories. We’d shared folktales and tales that were rumored to be true, stories of ghosts and vampires. I’d shared legends I’d heard of scientists attempting re-animate the dead. It is a strange sensation to find entertainment in fear, but it was not without consequence.

That evening I had a most vivid nightmare. I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion. The thing sat up, it was alive! Its hideous face glared at me, hating my mind for conjuring it. It drew near me, and before I knew it a flurry of images flooded my eyes. The same creature appeared to me again and again, but each time it seemed to be in a different form. Various versions of this thing flashed before me. Some of them could speak and were very articulate, others made only grunting sounds, but I know in my soul that they had all grown from the same blasphemous seed. Just for a moment, I saw one of them tied to a tree, with a small wound to his side. Looking back now, I’m sure it was Aliquis I’d seen in my dream.

This bizarre tale has haunted me long enough. It is time for its conclusion.

As I awoke the next day my eyes rested on Mary. She looked beautiful in her sleep, free from panic and despair she resembled a sleeping angel. I lay still on the ground, not moving, just watching her. She awoke and our eyes met. Immediately she sat up and looked about. “Where is Michelle?”

“Michelle!” She called out. I looked about and did not see her. Aliquis had gone too. A thousand thoughts raced through our heads. What happened? Did he take her somewhere? Some of the clothes were missing. He’d run off with her! Why would he do such a thing? Together we looked around the garden area but to no avail.

Then we heard the sound, it was Michelle’s voice. Close by was a small pool of water, and we noticed the large stature of Aliquis. We came close and could soon see Michelle standing with him. He picked her up and held her over the water. My god he was going to drown her! Is his thirst for violence never quenched? “SHELLY!” Mary called out as we both frantically ran to the river. My mind had no time to ponder how I would best him. He was larger than me; and obviously capable of great violence. Even in my prime of youth I doubt I could have taken him.

It was then we bore witness to the strangest sight. Both Mary and I were in fact mistaken. Aliquis held Michelle up and lightly tossed her in the air. He then placed her back on the ground and she ran around him. They both began plucking flowers from the grass and tossed them into the water. Here was a man capable of immense violence being playful and gentle with a young girl.

“Michelle I was so worried.” Her mother ran towards her with her arms open. Little Shelly ran back.

“Hey mom. We were just playing in the water. Mr. Aliquis is so fun!” Her mother was shocked to see her so lively and jubilant. She placed her hand on her daughter’s forehead. A fever that had stricken her was gone, and her complexion returned. How could this have happened? During the last days no one ever found a way to even treat the plague. All the advancements of science stood powerless against it, yet here stood this wonderful little girl, seemingly cured of its ravages.

I turned to Aliquis and asked “What happened? What did you do?”

“I don’t know. When I awoke she was lying beside me. It startled me, but then she woke up and was full of energy. So I took her down by the river to wash the clothes we found last night.”

In immeasurable relief Mary said “I don’t care how it happened as long as you’re ok.”

Together we had a peaceful moment, washing the clothes in the water and letting then dry on the nearby rocks. Little Michelle was cheerful and eager to help in any way she could.

Suddenly Aliquis stopped for a moment. “Wait, wait.”

“What is it?” I asked.

He looked around, gesturing with his hands he repeated “I know this, I know this?”

“You know what?” I still didn’t understand his behavior.

Speaking more frantically he answered “I’ve seen this before. The garden, the girl. Oh wait, what happens, what happens next?” Growing more frustrated he began smacking himself on the forehead calling out “Dam it I can’t remember!”

“What are you talking about?”

Then he pointed to Mary saying, “Wait, that other woman. The woman in white. You know her.” Mary said nothing but had a frightful look on her face.

“What other woman, what are you prattling on about?” I said angrily.

Tapping himself on the side of the head he replied “I almost got it!” He looked up. “Get down!”

Aliquis was sent flying through the air from the explosion. The blast from the artillery shell thundered as rubble and debris shot up around us. We fell to the ground in shock while covering our ears. Just ahead of us we could see multiple gunshots hitting the ground, the bullets punching up small clumps of dirt. One man and two women approached on horseback and focused their guns on myself, Mary and Michelle. Several more on horseback rode behind them.

Aside us a large hand grasped the dirt in the ground. Aliquis crawled forward, he was bleeding, but still alive. Even in his weakened condition he frightened the three gunmen.

“Stop right there or your friends die.” another female voice called out. A small horse-drawn carriage approached. It stopped before us. The driver stepped out and took his female passenger by the hand as she stepped out of the carriage. She had deep black hair and a long white dress with golden designs about it.

She walked towards us and knelt down towards Michelle. Caressing her face she said “Praise heaven it’s a miracle!”

“Get away from her Sophia she’s not your child!” Mary angrily called out.

“Isn’t she now?” Still looking at Michelle she continued “You should know our precious Shelly saved your life, and it appears your companion saved hers.”

“What are you saying? Just let us go.” Michelle said sobbing.

Another horse rode by with two men on it; the man in the rear was the large man from last night. The stump of his arm bandaged, he looked weak and weary. He spat on Aliquis as they rode by.

“You can imagine our surprise when only one of our party came back.” Sophia explained. “We decided not to take any chances. Early this morning we found your camp.” Turning to Aliquis he said “We were going to gut you in your sleep, but then we noticed something.” Again she knelt to Michelle and wrapped her arm around her. Michelle attempted to squirm away but Sophia held her in force.

“Let her go!’ Mary cried out.”

Ignoring her, Sophia continued. “This precious child woke up, still coughing from her sickness.” Looking to Mary she explained “And with what appeared to be her last remaining strength crawled toward your new friend. But as she drew closer to him her movements became swifter; to the point where she stood up on her own power. Mary when was the last time we’d seen our little Shelly walk?” Those words tore at Mary who scowled at her captor. “Yet there she stood in the morning sun. She walked over to him then lay back down to sleep. My disciples were about to charge, but I held them off. Not long later they both awoke. She leapt to her feet like a perfectly healthy child and buzzed around the camp like a bee.”

She then turned to Aliquis. “This brings me to you.” Two men hoisted Aliquis up by his arms as she asked “What power do you have over this plaque that all of modern science lacked? Who are you? What are you doing here?”

He said nothing.

Pointing to us Sophia shouted “Answer me or your friends die!”

He paused but a moment before answering “You will call me Aliquis, and I have walked this Earth before your grandparents were born. I was, I was put together in this place, by someone foolishly believing themself to be God.”

“Don’t speak to me in riddles. What power do you have over this plague? How did you acquire it?”

“I know nothing of this plague you speak of other than what Lionel told me. Though if I know anything about man, I’d bet you brought this on yourselves.”

“Anything about man? What are you?” She gasped for a moment before asking quietly “Are you from beyond our world?”

With a smirk he replied “I am who you say I am.”

She slapped him in the face saying “For the last time what are you?”

Slowly he brought his head forward before answering “I am not someone who will turn the other cheek. I am a creature of his word, and I promise you when this is over I will turn you inside out.”

Her eyes grew large as she stepped away. “I’ll deal with you later.” Her voice trembled as she turned to Mary and said “Mary, let us end this foolishness. Tell us where you saw the survivors.”

“You’re mad you can’t do this.”

She touched Shelly on the cheek. “You don’t know how it pleases me to see this precious child healthy again. She should enjoy a full childhood just as we had together.”

“You always had to run things didn’t you? Just leave those people in peace.”

“Peace.” Looking to Aliquis Sophia said “It appears we’ve been led to our salvation. Yet how can we spread it to others if we don’t know where they are?” She pulled out a small knife and held it in the air and said “But you know.”

“Stop, this is madness!” I called out.

“Shut up!” One of the men shouted while punching me in the stomach. I fell to the ground and wheezed.

Sophia now clutched Michelle’s shoulder while she and Mary stared into each other’s eyes. It was silent for a moment as tension gripped the air. But soon Sophia’s face relaxed and her hand released Michelle.

“Give her to me!” said the wounded man as his one arm grabbed Michelle by the neck and hoisted her into the air. Michelle cried out and Sophia gasped as the child struggled in the clutch of the brute.

“No! Alright alight!” Michelle said frantically.

“Where are they?” shouted the brute.

“There near Vohburg, in the Durnbucher forest.” Michelle said in sorrow.

The one armed man tossed Shelly down as her mother rushed by her side. “Tie them all up.” Sophia commanded. “It’s time to spread the word.”

What to make of this Aliquis creature? The story of the Last Man was one complete narrative, easily passed off as a work of fiction. But this creature is so strikingly bizarre. If this story were ever released to the public, it would be savaged worse than its predecessor not only for its violence and vulgarity, but also because this thing seems out of place in the tale. It’s as if it were the Lucifer cast out from the hell of another story, a dark falling star that crashed into this apocalyptic earth.

Another chilling thought came to mind. The creature would not state its origins, but said rather defiantly that he “walked this Earth before your grandparents were born.” If these characters inhabited the 22cnd century, how long before then could it have lived?

It was terrifying, almost unbearable to think of the unspeakable possibility. Could this creature be alive now? And what of its struggle to remember? Could this thing have possibly read these very words?

I turned around to see flashes of white light moving through the forest. On countless nights my hopes were dashed as I’d seen lights that were merely tricks of the moonlight or other phenomenon. My spirit could not bear another disappointment. My eyes examined the light and I was determined to believe they were wrong. “It’s a woman. I can hear her.” Had my new guest gone mad? I heard nothing, but Aliquis immediately sat up, grabbed a piece of firewood and lit it in our campfire. With this newly lit torch he bolted into the woods. I made my own torch and followed behind, but he was so fast I could not keep up. If it had not been for his own torch I would have lost him in the darkness.

From his torchlight ahead it was evident he stopped moving. The white lights continued to shine through the forest, and this time I could hear the woman myself. She let out a scream as I continued to dash toward the light. As I came closer I realized Aliquis had planted his torch into the ground. I could not see him, but I could scarcely make out the woman cowering in the darkness, the firelight just barely caressing her figure. In her arms she tightly held onto a child! After all this time, someone else had survived. Hope for mankind after all. The white lights continued to approach. More people! I could just barely make them out. It was a small group, mostly women but a few men as well. My heart leapt as I saw them. Humanity indeed would survive and prosper as they had before!

My mind was so blind with excitement and optimism that I couldn’t read the situation. This party, whoever they were, came armed. A twanging sound shot through the night air as one of the women fired an arrow from her bow. It shot toward the woman and her child. What monstrosity was this?

I gasped out loud as Aliquis reached out of the darkness and snatched the arrow in mid-flight. With one swift motion he leapt toward them, and in an instant the forest was filled with screams of fright, agony, and an inhuman roar. I made a mad dash to the woods. The woman and the child were both crying as I approached. “Don’t worry I won’t hurt you.” I said. “We have food and supplies. You’ll be safe with us.”

I turned to see the forest was flooded with images both mad and macabre. In but a moment Aliquis killed every man and women he encountered. It looked as though he merely ripped some of them in two! Only one remained, a large muscular man like Aliquis brandishing a long machete. He lunged and parried at Aliquis who swiftly ducked out of the way. It amazed me that both men were so large but could move so fast. “Stop! Stop!!” I called out in vain. He lunged one more time and Aliquis grabbed his arm and threw him to the ground. The man was on his back while Aliquis pulled the man’s arm between his legs which he laid across the man’s chest. Pushing his hips up in one swift motion he snapped the man’s arm at his elbow. He howled in pain and I grew sick to my stomach as I could hear the sound cracking bones. Aliquis continued his violent motion as he twisted the man’s broken arm until it tore off at the elbow. In my youth I had been witness to much violence and savagery, and may have even partaken in some myself, but this was too much even for me.

The man shrieked in pain, but Aliquis would not relent. He sat up and picked up the man by his throat. “NO!” I shouted, pushing against Aliquis’ bloody chest. “You monster!” I called out, beating on his chest. “They were people! They were people and you killed them!” Aliquis released the man and grabbed me by the throat. The one armed man ran screaming frantically into the night. Aliquis pulled me toward him and I thought for sure I would be next.

Then we both heard the child cry out, he released his grip and stepped into the torchlight. The child again shrieked out loud and he looked down and patted his shirt, not realizing he was covered in blood. The child then grew quiet, it was a young girl. She held onto her mother but could not remove her gaze from Aliquis. After several heavy breaths Aliquis cooled his composure and spoke. “Varney you take her back to the camp, I’ll get whatever supplies are left here.”

The woman nodded her head. She walked back with me while carrying her daughter in her arms. The child hid her face from view, but I could see she had the same short curly blonde hair as her mother. I had so longed to speak to another human being, and finally I was in the presence of not one but two of them. Yet in light of the horrific display of violence around me I could not think of a thing to say.

We arrived in silence at the camp. I offered water to my new guests which they gladly accepted. The fire still burned. I looked back to see Aliquis walking towards us. I stood back up and went to greet him. He said nothing as I approached. He hardly even looked at me.

“Aliquis. Aliquis I…” He continued walking. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry it’s just. When I saw those people I thought, we could live together in peace.” He continued walking as if I said nothing. “Try to understand.” I pleaded. “This is the first day in so long I’ve seen anyone alive. It’s also the first time in so long I had to see someone die.”

His arms were full as he’d made a makeshift knapsack out of the clothes of his victims, and had taken their archery equipment as well as the machete. He pushed a pile of bloody clothes into my chest. “These were the women’s.” he answered. “You can carry them for me.”

Back at the camp he pointed to what I was carrying and said to the woman “Some of these will probably fit you. I can make some new garments for your daughter.” Holding up a bow and arrow he asked “Do you know how to use these?”

“Yes I do, and thank you.” she said quietly. The first female voice I’d heard in so long will forever float in my memory.

“You may call me Aliquis. This is Lionel. Who are you and who were those people?”

“My name is Mary and this is my daughter Michelle. We were part of a religious sect, more of a cult really. It used to be based out of Paris, but…”

“Paris!” I finally spoke. “I think I saw them in Paris. Their leader, was he the son of a Methodist minister?”

“Yes he was. Had you fled from them as well?”

“I wasn’t part of their group, but I’d encountered them. My dear friend Juliet fell under their influence, but their leader was a fraud who was hiding the effects of the plague.”

“Juliet. Oh, I remember her. Michelle used to play with her daughter Idris. I was part of a group sent looking for survivors. Some time ago we returned to Paris to find it empty. Juliet, Idris, everyone. It seemed they all died out.”

“Well obviously not all of them.” said Aliquis. “Of course they might all be dead now.”

Looking out into the night Mary said “No, I’m afraid there’s more of the search party out there.”

Sharpening his giant machete over the campfire Aliquis added. “Well not for long.”

“Good god no!” I said, still rattled from the recent barbarism. “We have this whole world to ourselves now. We can rebuild. We must reach some kind of peace. We can….”

“Peace.” He interrupted. “I’ve heard all that shit before; the War to End All Wars, the End of History. You sang Give Peace a Chance for decades but none of you people get it. If you want world peace, go back to being the Last Man.” Pointing to the rubble he concluded, “You should have left me in those rocks.”

Having enough of Aliquis’ disposition, I asked Elizabeth “Why were they chasing you anyway?” but as soon as I asked I noticed. The light from the fire illuminated Michelle’s little face. She let out a cough and I could tell from her pale complexion that she was sickly. “Oh no.” I called out.

Mary began sobbing “Please don’t leave us, we have no-where to go.”

Aliquis looked at me, his eyes shined like fire in the night. “They’re staying with us.”

I have spoken enough of the violence of this tale. The savagery of this beast was so sickening it almost made me abandon the Sybil leaves. Thankfully, or not, my acquaintances encouraged me to move on. Even I realized as much as the brutality taxed my mind, I must continue. Like an arctic explorer, I chose to set out on this journey, and accepted that I simply must finish it.

As much as we’d accepted the nature of the Cumean Sybil prophecies, they still surprised us with what they revealed. Methodist. It was roughly translated, but again how would an ancient prophetess know the name of a Christian denomination? What piqued my comrades interest was the nature of these machines that generated beams of light. Could this device from the future be seen in my day?  What other possibilities await in this narrative?

We sat around the campfire as I told him my tale of woe. Before the world had fallen I was called Lionel Verney. My life was steeped in tragedy before it even began. My father was a friend to the English King, but was abandoned due to gambling debts. I never knew my father; he took his life early on, and my sister Perdita were left to fend for ourselves. I was bitter towards the nobility that abandoned my father until I met Adrian, the Earl of Windsor, the last son of the King. He knew how my sister and I had been wronged and took us in. Those early years were among my happiest times. They were not to last. War broke out between Greece and Turkey. The city of Constantinople was raided, and there began the first rumors of the plague. England remained safe for a time, but the plague spread across Europe and the Americas. Soon it was everywhere. My acquaintances and I traveled across Europe in search of a safe haven. At one point we encountered a cult that promised salvation, but despite their denial the plaque reached them too. One by one I lost each of my loved ones until I believed myself the last man.

“Well Mr. Last Man,” my new companion said, “you may call me Aliquis. I apologize if my initial reaction offended you. I’m well versed in the follies of man. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for all of your loss. I know what it is to watch everyone you love pass on.”

“Well let us forget that now. I must ask, what were you doing here? How did you end up buried under those rocks? How did you survive?”

In the brief moments I’d known this man he always seemed eloquent, but suddenly he seemed at a loss for words. “I… I.. I came home.” he answered.

“Was your family here?”

“I didn’t have a family in the way you speak.”

“What about your parents?”

“I didn’t have parents, I never knew a mother or a father. “

“As I mentioned I never knew my father either. Did you parents abandon you?”

“They didn’t exist. I told you I never had parents. I was… created.”

“What do you mean you were created? We were all created?”

The eyes of Aliquis peered past me looking out into the night. He answered “I thought you said you were the Last Man?”

When I studied this newest addition to the Cumean Sibyl prophecies, it was only at this moment I realized this must have been the same narrative as the Last Man. In this tale the Earth had been ravaged by a plague. There was little information about it, such as the means with which it spread or the manner in which its victims died. The account seemed to indicate that it started in Rome, but this was all the information available. For a moment I regretted not being able to include it in what most believed to be my novel. However, upon reading the rest of the account, I know that the following events of vulgarity and violence never could have seen print. Even if by some miracle they could have been, it would have only given the critics more cause to call me sick and deranged for telling this tale they would presume to have come from my own mind.

I ran back to the campfire to fetch my water pouch then returned to waking giant. He groggily moved his head as I brought the liquid to his lips. I let him have the entire contents, as he fully opened his eyes and looked up to me. This was the first human face I’d seen in so long. When was the last time he gazed upon another human? After looking at me a moment, his eyes once again closed, and he returned to his slumber. “No!” I couldn’t even remember the last time I spoke. “No don’t go!” I shouted, shaking his body with all my might. I could not bear to finally have another person cradled in my arms only to again be left alone. Gently I placed his head back in the earth and checked his vital signs. His heart continued to beat, and he was still breathing. Whatever his condition, he was still in this world.

While his heart lightly thumped mine pounded with excitement. I could not pull myself away. Under the starry sky I kept watch over him. Soon the sun crept up the sky into a new day. Still my new companion had not stirred, and late into the morning my body fell back to sleep.

A massive hand shook me awake. Looking up I saw this enormous man looming over me, his body blocking out the sun. I drew back and yelled out in fright. It had been so long I’d forgotten what it was to be in the company of others. He took no offense, but there was an awkward moment of silence, after which he said. “Thank you for sharing your water last night. I ate the rest of the meat but your pouch has been refilled and I caught another deer for you.” I could see the remains of last night’s catch had been devoured, a pile of deer pones lay to the side, while over the campfire a perfectly skinned deer roasted.

I leapt to my feet and embraced the man. He seemed very startled as I rambled “No thank you sir! Thank you thank you thank you!” Almost in tears I pulled back and continued, “I’m sorry to have been so startled. It’s been so long since I’ve seen… well seen anybody.”

“I’m used to it.” he said. I imagined many people may have been startled by him throughout his life due to his above average height. He inquired, “What do you mean you haven’t seen anybody? Are you a hermit or something?”

His question puzzled me to the point where I could not bring myself to give any answer.

“You got a name?” he continued.

“I’m, I’m just,  I’m no one.”

My bewilderment angered him. He mumbled something and shook his head and his fist for a moment, then pointed to me and said “Don’t ever say to me again. You got a name what is it?”

“My apologies sir. This is all so startling to me. For the longest time thought I was the only one left.”

“I went into the village this morning.” He continued. “There were a few bodies lying around but I didn’t see anyone alive. Why was this place abandoned? Was there another war?”

His questions were confusing to me. There’s an old expression that goes “Have you been living under a rock?” In this case it appeared he literally had. I asked “Do you really mean this line of questioning?”

Growing frustrated he pointed to the rubble and said “Look at where you found me! I’ve obviously been asleep a long time. Just humor me and tell me what happened!”

The mixture of confusion an elation were too much for my constitution. Reaching the point of tears all I could bring myself to say was “I thought I was the only one.”

He walked away from the fire and looked up to the sky. He was very still for a moment, as if he were looking and listening very intensely for something, anything. He looked back at the collapsed rubble behind me, and the few bodies that lay about. He then looked back to the garden. It started out small, almost like a whimper, then it grew larger and larger, his chest expanding and contracting; it was the sound of monstrous laughter.

“Hahahaha, oh you assholes! You fucking assholes! You people really did it this time!! Hahahaha. I gotta know, I gotta know, what did it? How did it happen what did you do?”

“I beg your pardon sir but what do you find so funny about a plague wiping out all of humanity?”

“Ahahaha! A plague huh? You idiots would wipe yourselves out with a plague. You probably made it as a weapon didn’t you? Oh and let me guess, the plague got loose and wiped out everyone hahaha. Gee I couldn’t see that one coming! I warned you people this would happen, but no, nobody listens to the monster! The monster doesn’t know what he’s talking about he’s only been alive since before everyone in the damn room was even born!! Hahaha!!! Well whose laughing now boys!”

“I still don’t know why you find this amusing! No one knew the cause of the plague. I have no idea how it started. All I know is that everyone I know is dead and you’re getting a laugh out of it!”

He walked over to the deer, pulled a whole leg off and bit into it’s thigh. While chewing his food he pointed the bone towards me and said said, “Well, at least it wasn’t nuclear.”

Such language could never see proper publication, yet I swear this is how he spoke, and I feel obliged to tell this story as accurately as my abilities allow me. Who was this incredibly strange man? And what was some of the strange words used. Deciphered them to the best of my ability, but words like nuclear were beyond Greek to me. It was around this point my acquaintances regained their interest in the tale. One of the criticisms of my previous work was that I offered little speculation in what life would be like in a world far beyond our years. This was the one criticism I was understanding of, but as I’d previously stated I was merely telling a tale from the leaves of Cumean Sybil, and they offered no little speculation regarding scientific wonder. Here there were mild hints of it. The previously mentioned museum with it’s man made lung and kidney, devices for conducting surgery using beams of light, and other devices I simply didn’t know how to describe. It was around this point my acquaintances regained their interest in this tale. More surprises were to come as this narratives two characters tell their tale around the campfire.