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Beyond the Trees

by Benjamin Locke

‘Come on Alex, Final Departure!’ Seth’s voice came jumbled through the thicket.

‘Be right there Seth,’ returned Alex, pulling down the visor of his helmet and slamming it shut, taking a last long look at the planet he called home. The moment he and Seth had trained years for was finally upon them. The first men to step on to another planet, the new frontier of human exploration, XR019. They would be heroes here and they would be aliens there. He took a long deep breath through the assisted airway of the helmet and stepped off the platform, the adrenaline of reality finally beginning to course his veins.

‘All systems checked, ready for departure captain.’ Seth relayed followed by the scheerk of the intercom.

Captain Alex Montgomery took his seat at the head of the cockpit and fastened himself in, ‘Ready for liftoff Lieutenant.’

The men paused a moment and looked at each other, raising a fist before their faces. A symbol of solidarity, something only they understood between them. It said this is it friend. We’re in this together, let’s bring it home!

A sound like the earth itself was imploded roared through them as the rocket engines burst in to life and everything around them shook like a chandelier riding the waves of the San Andreas fault. The men finally retracted their hands and clung on for their lives as their ship propelled them toward the unknown.

The journey took only a few hours but when finally the ship hit XR019’s atmosphere, it lit up the turquoise sky in a shower of brilliant yellow. Creatures never seen before far below, looked on in awe and fear as their sky seemed to be ripped apart.

The landing was rough and when the craft eventually ground to a halt, they looked at each other with a shared expression of concern but also joy. They had made it yes but would the ship be able to carry them home or would they be trapped here until rescue could finally arrive?

The captain clawed at his harness and ripped himself free. ‘Lieutenant, see if you can get that door open, I want a full eval and status report as quick as you can.’

Seth, already free of his seat nodded to his captain and headed for the cabin door. Alex tried to contact mission control but was met only by static and clicking. No use. He tried throwing switches here and there. Lights lit up and went out, the console danced a brilliant dance but gave him nothing more.

‘Sir,’ Seth called from behind, ‘We’ve taken some damage to the rear of the ship. The hull has not been breached but comms are down.’ He took a breath and continued, ‘engines seem stable as far as I can tell but I’ll know more when we get outside.’

Alex nodded, ‘Thank you Lieutenant, let’s see if we can’t get out there then shall we?’ The men smiled slowly at each other. The joy of discovery seeming to bubble up over the fear of being stranded millions of miles from home.

They raised their fists once more in silent communication and Alex added, ‘Let’s get this mission done old friend.’ The mission being a recon. Life on earth had turned sour and the human race was looking for its new home. Their job on XR019 was basically to be Guinea Pigs. Test the atmosphere, look for signs of intelligent life however small and report home.

The airlock door between them hissed and a cloud of vapour shot around the edges. The door lifted free and the first light of XR019 hit them. Alex took a breath making sure his helmet was sealed and lead a first nervous step through the opening, his heavy boot crunching underfoot on the dense forest floor.

Outside their suits the air was close and full of moisture. The sounds of giant crickets and other alien insects rang through their helmets and for a moment it seemed like any other country walk back on Earth. Except it wasn’t. The chirping was so loud and fierce, like nothing you could hear back home and the trees, the trees where a sight to behold. Each of them taller and wider than General Sherman, the largest tree on earth. The men simply stood a while, mouths agape with awe.

‘Lieutenant, what do we know about the atmosphere?’

Seth was tapping away at small keyboard mounted to his left wrist. ‘Air seems stable, Oxygen levels high. Simulation reports a 99.19% chance of human survival.’
No sooner had he finished, Alex reached under his helmet and pulled at the release mechanism.

‘Sir, what if…’ Seth began but Alex cut him off with a raised palm.
The face of his helmet lifted free and he breathed the rich air for the first time. It was satisfying and somehow sweet. The air in the suit was good but had a tendency to dry out the throat like an over air-conditioned gift store on international drive.

Adrenaline overcame him again as his rationale realised there was a 0.81% chance he had just breathed poison but as the air rushed in and out, the pounding in his temples gave way to euphoria.

‘Come Seth, shall we embark on the greatest adventure in human history?’ Alex said, holding his hand out toward the great unknown, leading the way beyond the trees.
Then, the chirping stopped and gave way to a voice, a voice so very…Human.

‘Boys! Dinner’s ready!’

The men, no longer men but boys looked at each other frowning. Alex took off his tinfoil and cola bottle helmet and discarded it inside their scrap-wood and cardboard space craft.

’Scheerk…Lieutenant come in. Adventure awaits…after Cheeseburgers!

The boys laughed and smiled and ran through the scrub land until they found the back gate of the Captain’s house. The greatest discoveries of human history would have to wait until after dinner.


Benjamin is a fiction writer living in Yorkshire, England. He writes anything from High Fantasy to Supernatural Thrillers and is a big fan of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Find free stories and more on his website, benjaminlockewriter.com

Grilled Rabbit

by Benjamin Locke

A man without a name stood still in the chill of the evening air, stooped behind a tree, listening to conversation a little ways down the road.

The tree was seemingly the last on this final frontier of civilized vegetation before the unforgiving heat and lifelessness of the desert began proper.

Two men where squabbling over something, gesturing angrily with their hands and leaning in towards each other as they spoke. The man without a name knew all of these tells. He was a great study of people and animals which made him a formidable hunter and a hard man to tail.

The man had been traveling on horseback, but sensing his pursuers two days past, he’d stabled the horse in the nearest town and payed the stable master generously not to mention anything of his passing through, should anyone go asking.

The two men seemed to have stopped, the man without a name presuming they had finally admitted to themselves that they had A; lost their prey and B; lost themselves. They stood now facing away from each other, looking off in to the distance and along the road, looking for any sign of life.

The man without a name knew these men where no trackers. They couldn’t find their own pricks with both hands, he thought. Seizing the opportunity for surprise, he pushed his way through a thicket lining the edge of the thoroughfare, stumbling on to the sandy track.

The two men ahead of him panicked at the sound of rustling foliage and spun around, frantically reaching for their guns.

‘Ho, Ho, fellas I mean you no harm’, the man without a name said, one hand held up in the air before him. ‘I’m just passing through here. Took a detour off the road to catch me some supper.’

The other hand, which had been held up to his shoulder swung down now to reveal two scrawny rabbits which he held out before him also.

The two men, both with a hand on the butt of their guns looked at each other in confusion. The man without a name could almost hear the cogs turning in their brains as they communicated in silence.

After a moment, they both withdrew their hands and let their jackets fall back over the holsters on their belts, concealing the guns once more.

One of them said, ‘Say, you don’t know of anywhere round here to spend the night do ya?’

The other one said, after a violent cough, ‘our horses went lame yesterday and we’ve been walking ever since. Need to make it to salt lake city for our sisters wedding ya see.’

The man without a name swung the rabbits back over his should and relaxed his stance.

‘Nothing round here except desert, Son. You’ve a three day ride in the direction of Salt Lake before you hit anywhere with a soft mattress,’ he paused and one side of his mouth rose a little, ‘or a soft woman, if it please ya.’

The two men looked at each other again. The man without a name continued. ‘Look, dark’s closing in. The nights out here are colder than a Nuns cunny and I don’t plan to be without a fire for much longer. You boys are welcome to join me for some rabbit supper. Don’t exactly look like you have much food on ya, so I’d say you don’t have many choices. Nothing like some good food in your belly to keep the night away.’

More silent communication between the men. One of them eventually nodded and they walked with the the man off the road a ways to a secluded spot sheltered by a few huge sandstone boulders.

Within an hour the man had gotten a fire going with some dried brush and fashioned a spit out of sticks he’d had slung over his back. The smell of grilled rabbit filled their little camp and before long, they all seemed relaxed and ready for a hot meal. Just as the man without a name had said, the air quickly turned to ice. A long way from the raging heat of midday.

As the rabbit began to cook through, the man without a name stood up and asked the others to keep the spit turning while he went for a piss. On his return, the man produced three small tin cups from his satchel and filled them from a water skin hanging from his belt.

‘Tea, fellas?’ He asked.

They both nodded and the man without a name tipped some loose tea in to each of the cups which were resting now in the embers. The three men sat and enjoyed grilled rabbit and hot tea by the light of the fire and each was pleased. Soon after, they were asleep.

* * * *

One man awoke shaking, a warm dribble in the corner of his mouth. Looking up he was startled to see the man without a name hunkered down before him.

‘Rise and shine sweetheart.’

‘Hersh?,’ the man sputtered and coughed. Blood sprayed from his mouth.

‘Hersh is gone. Coughing sickness right? I could tell from the minute we met, the way he coughed and held a rag to his face to catch the blood. It took him quicker I’m afraid.’

‘What do you mean?’ The man tried to get up, but the strain made him hack and spew more blood. He could even feel a warm dampness forming between his ass cheeks.

‘Vorbane. Powerful little thing.’ The man without a name was holding a small dried mushroom in one hand. ‘Very rare, I’ve brought these a long way to feed to you Pinkerton fuckers. Completely undetectable by taste or smell,’ he smiled.

‘Why,’ the man could barely speak now. Blood pouring from every hole like a fountain. ‘Why the rabbits?’

The man without a name stood up. ‘No man should die on an empty stomach, I’m not a savage.’

Then he turned and disappeared in to the black desert night.


Benjamin is a fiction writer living in Yorkshire, England. He writes anything from Epic Fantasy to Thrillers and Adventures and is a huge Stephen King fan!