(15 minute read)
by Dru Richman
Bruce Lawrence Zebub, still in his sleeping shorts, stepped out on to the porch of his cabin. He was a huge blacksmith of a man—well tanned with broad shoulders that led down to a well-muscled stomach and impossibly narrow hips. He had mighty oaks for legs. And even though his hands were well callused from years of heavy labor, they were soft enough to be able to paint the spring flowers in watercolors when he wanted. He had the solemn good looks of a Roman senator and brushed his dark hair, thick as a horse’s mane, straight back from his temples.
He scanned the distant snow-capped mountains. It was late spring in the high Mountains and the flowers were beginning to bloom. The T’Nek River, named after a boyhood friend, a scant two miles from his cabin, had begun to flow more vigorously and was colder with the addition of the snows melting off the mountains. He looked toward the encroaching sunrise and sniffed the air. It’ll be hot later, he thought. Turning back to the cabin, he padded to his bedroom and stripped off the shorts and stepped into the shower.
Afterwards, as he was drying himself, he mentally reviewed what chores he had assigned to himself for this day. With his day laid out, he donned work pants and shirt, cotton socks and heavy boots. He looked down at the empty bed. It had been a long time since he had had an opportunity to share it with anyone. Perhaps, if I asked the Rangers. Not bloody likely…no matter…he sighed.
“Half a dozen eggs sunny side up, hash browns, whole wheat toast, six buttermilk pancakes with butter and maple syrup, a six-ounce steak and a pot of coffee with cold milk. And a tall glass of OJ,” he said to no one in particular. And by the time he had adjusted his pants, rolled up the sleeves on his shirt, and tied his boots, his breakfast was ready and waiting on the table in the kitchen.
After he had finished his breakfast and disposed of the dishes, he left the cabin, grabbed his tools and began the hike up the mountain to start to mark trees to be felled later in the season. By mid morning, he had finished that task and started another. He decided to check the traps to see if there was any game. It had been a long time since he had had fresh meat. And while the Rangers would bring him any type and cut of meat he wanted, there was nothing like fresh meat.
He was amused, and somewhat disappointed, that there were no animals caught in his traps. Apparently, the Rangers didn’t share his affinity toward fresh meat and prevented the game from being caught. He walked east for about an hour and came face-to-face with…nothing. It was a clear see-through barrier. He couldn’t see it, but he could smell the ozone coming off it. And as he had done countless times before, he reached out and touched it.
As his fingers brushed the barrier it felt as if there was a low voltage tingle coursing through his hand. He pushed. The barrier pushed back. He turned without looking back and began the trek back to his cabin. Over the past years he had walked the perimeter of this ‘little paradise’ many times. Exactly one hundred miles per side. And between him and the outside world stood the barrier. It was too deep to dig under and too tall to propel things (including himself) over. It was, seemingly impenetrable; designed with one thing in mind—to deny him his freedom.
Ranger Charles, a short, round-faced balding administrator of a man, sat at his monitoring display panel. He was in charge of monitoring more than seventy-five hundred confinement enclosures. Most of the work was, of course, automated. But he was still needed when there were the inevitable problems. As he peered at his displays he failed to hear or see the Chief Ranger approach his station. He turned just in time to see the Chief cross the last few steps to his display area.
“G-g-good morning, sir,” he stammered.
“Good morning, Charles,” he replied. “Could you punch up enclosure Able 14 Theo 1457 Delta for me?”
“Of course, sir.” Charles turned back to his console and entered the coordinates for that enclosure. He made a mental note to pay closer attention to this enclosure in the future while noting that the enclosure was one of the oldest in the system. And then he looked again, and gasped. It wasn’t just one of the oldest enclosures in the system, it was the oldest. The first one established at the very beginning. He was so lost in that thought that he almost missed the Chief Ranger’s question.
“What’s he been doing lately?” the Chief Ranger asked.
Charles scanned the logs and gave what he hoped would be an acceptable summary.
“For the past four hundred seasons he’s maintained a fairly simple lifestyle. He usually rises about sunrise, bathes, eats a large breakfast and then goes to one section of the enclosure to harvest trees or mark trees for harvesting. He then hauls them back to his cabin, chops them up, and piles them on the west side of the cottage. He keeps the internal temperature at approximately 125 degrees year round. In the spring and autumn he has taken to painting watercolor paintings. He’s quite good actually.”
A quick glance from the Chief told him that was not what he wanted to hear. Clearing his throat Charles continued, “He has walked the perimeter fourteen times so far. Each time he probes a different sector and uses a different method to try to escape. We have increased the barrier height and depth to one thousand meters as a precautionary measure. He constructed a wide array of devices to capture wild animals. But, as you well know, there are no other creatures in the enclosure. He has been asking for ‘fresh meat’ of late. And,” Charles hesitated for just a split second, “he has been asking for ‘companionship.’ ” That brought another visual rebuke from his boss.
“When is he scheduled to be resupplied?” ask the Chief Ranger.
“Anytime in the next six seasons,” replied Charles.
“Pack up all that he has requested and his usual supplies, put it in a knapsack, and I’ll take it to him personally. And, oh,” the Chief added, “no ‘companionship’ at this time. Note that in the log under my authority.” He turned and walked away before Charles could respond.
It was high summer several seasons later when the Chief Ranger stepped through the portal that led into the enclosure. He was dressed in tan shorts that came down almost to his knees, a short-sleeved shirt of the same hue, and tall hiking boots tied with leather strings and light green wool socks. And on his head, the requisite hat. He also wore a badge over his left breast pocket that displayed his rank and concealed a communication device that would immediately extract him if he got into trouble.
As he walked the several miles from the portal to the cabin he noted the lushness of the enclosure. For as far as he could see, there was life here. He drew a large breath into his lungs as if to taste the air. It was absolutely clear and pure. He stopped occasionally to bend over and look at a particular flower or plant. He was truly amazed what groundskeeping had done with this enclosure.
Long before he saw Bruce Lawrence, he could hear the swinging of his ax and the sound of wood being split. He slowed his pace as he neared the cabin. And then he saw him. He was just as he remembered him. He picked up his pace again. When he was about four hundred yards away, Bruce Lawrence spotted him. With one last mighty blow he split the ten-inch diameter log on the block.
He laid his ax against the stump and slowly walked toward the Chief Ranger. When they were about two meters apart, they both stopped. It had been a long time since they had seen each other. A very long time. The Chief Ranger dropped the knapsack at his feet, and in a split moment, they embraced.
“How are you, brother? You’re looking well.”
“I’m fine, Bruce Lawrence,” replied the Chief Ranger. “And you?”
“I’m fine, Gabby. But why are you so damned formal? Nobody calls me Bruce Lawrence except for Dad, and even then, only when He’s angry. Tell you what, if you call me B.L., I won’t have to address you as Chief Ranger Gabriel.”
“Fair enough, B.L.,” Gabriel slowly turned a small circle looking at the trees, the forest, the hills. He could see the stream far down the mountainside. And he looked over at the cabin and the accompanying picnic table. He paused for a moment and said, “You’ve done pretty well for yourself,” as he reached for his knapsack, “and that deserves something special.” He pulled out a rather ordinary squarish bottle with a lime-green liquid inside and handed it to B.L.
B.L. took the bottle, broke the seal at the top, and cautiously sniffed the contents. Then his eyes flew open. “Where did you get this?” he asked incredulously. Taking a quick look over both shoulders and pointing to the bottle he said, “Not even you’re allowed to have this stuff. If Dad finds out, He’ll have your wings!”
“Hey,” shrugged Gabriel, “what are brothers for?”
B.L. motioned that they head into the cabin. “It’s always a bit chilly for me here. We could go into the cabin and warm up…”
“I’d better not,” said Gabriel. “Let’s just sit at the table.”
Gabriel reached into the knapsack and withdrew two glasses into which B.L. poured a generous slug of the green intoxicant. After a ‘salud’ and a clinking of glasses, they downed their drinks in one gulp and let the warmth of the liquid seep into their bones.
After a while B.L. asked, “So tell me, is Dad still pissed at me?”
“Pissed doesn’t describe it,” said . “He passed pissed about four thousand seasons ago!”
“What’s passed pissed?” Furious… Enraged… Infuriated?”
Gabriel shook his head ‘no’ after each question. “He’s,” Gabriel paused as if to search for the proper word, “positively incandescent! Why do you think he stuck you way out here in the boonies?”
“Speaking of which,” asked B.L., “just where the hell am I anyway? The boonies?”
“The locals call it Earth. And if you’ve looked at the stars, you’ll see we’re a long, long way from home.”
After several hours of chitchat and the unpacking of the groceries from the knapsack, Gabriel prepared to take his leave. The sky was turning from twilight to early dusk and everything was drifting into ever-deepening shadows.
“You know,” said B.L. somberly, “you can’t keep me in here forever.”
And with a look of deep sadness and regret, and yes, even pain, Gabriel softly said, “Yes, brother…we can.”
With that, Gabriel picked up the now-empty knapsack and started the long trek back to the portal and to his life.
After a short distance, B.L. called after him, “I shall have my freedom. There’s nothing you or anyone else, even Dad, can do to prevent that. You know that! I…Will… Have…My…Freedom!”
Gabriel trudged onward to the portal and without turning back, waved.
B.L. watched his brother disappear into the intruding darkness. So they think by sticking me out here in…what did Gabby call it? Oh yeah, the boonies, that they’ll stop me from eventually ruling this sector? he thought. He chuckled at the foolishness of it. Earth, he reckoned, might be just the place to continue his revolution.
B.L. Zebub, actually spelled Beelzebub, formerly of climes much warmer than Earth’s, picked up the bottle of green Organian whiskey and headed back into his cabin to plan for his eventual freedom and how to carry on his insurrection.
Copyright © 2021 Dru Richman. All rights reserved.
About the Author
For more than fifteen years, Dru has been part of an international writing group called Brainz. Each month the group is charged with writing something based on a one-word topic.
Dru lives in Richardson, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), with wifey Ava, and their four-legged love child, a standard poodle named Jacob.
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