Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Remains of the Day

*this is a photo from my Instagram feed, where more such photos reside.  And yes, that is pecan tart in the background, and yes, it was amazing.

A few days ago, I finished listening to the audio book for The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and I can't stop thinking about the book and its themes: hard work, dignity, loyalty and making the most of life when the work is done. 

Before I go on, let me to gush about the amazing narrator for this book that is Simon Prebble.  He was the perfect choice, and he not only delivered the story with immaculate precision, but transported me to early 20th Century England and the world of butlers and professional service.  Well done, good sir, well done.

It's not very often that a book stays with me for several days.  I usually read a couple of books at the same time, and I have a busy life where I'm thinking about lots of things (which I'm sure is the same for many of you).  But every once in awhile, a book comes along that is so profound in its ideas, that the book lingers in my mind for days.  The Remains of the Day was such a book. 

I went into this story without any prior knowledge, except that it was about a butler, and that Mr. Ishiguro has recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. (It was all coincidental timing for me, as my wife has been recommending that I read this novel for years.)  I began listening to the audio book and immediately enjoyed the story--but merely as a pleasant diversion from my commute to and from work.  The first couple of chapters were pleasant enough, full of dry humor and subtle witticisms. The story reminded me of Downton Abbey, but maybe because Downton Abbey is my only real reference point for the world of butlers and professional service (that and the books by P.G. Wodehouse--which I also recommend).

The story is set in the years before and after World War II, but the war and political turmoil play a minor role in the story. It is really about a butler looking back on his life, and on the choices and sacrifices he made in order to fulfill his duty as a butler—which he sees as paramount in his life. The story is about dignity and loyalty and the sacrifice of self in order to attain greatness (even in minor ways).

But about halfway through the book, the narrator relays a story to another character which is inconsistent with how he told the story to the reader.  This piqued my interest and I began paying more attention to the details of what the butler was saying.  It didn't take long to pick up on the fact that even within the same comment or story, the narrator was altering details in mostly minor--but sometimes major--ways.  Before long, I realized that the butler was an unreliable narrator, and my interest in the story grew exponentially from that point on.  Why was the butler (his name is Stevens) changing his story?  Was he hiding something?  Was he ashamed of something?

I'm not going to get into all that, because its part of what makes this story so unexpected and fun.  Not since reading The Pale King by David Foster Wallace, have I had as much fun with a writer's play on language and detail.

And it is fun, even though the fun is had in subtle ways, and the playfulness with language is a good contrast to the underlying tragedy of a person looking back on life with regrets.  When you reach the ending (and it won't take long, it's a short book), you realize that there is only one way the story can really end, but it is a wrenching sucker punch all the same. 

So you have to read this book.  It is fantastic.  There is so much to recommend about this book, and some very deep thoughts that may cause some serious reflection on your own life.  The one passage that was probably most important to me was this:
The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it. 
-Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day
Check out The Remains of the Day on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Audible
© Derrick Hibbard 2017

My new novel: The Bridge Between Stars is available now!  Read a FREE excerpt here.  The Bridge Between Stars is an apocalyptic thriller--a nightmare come to life. A haunting tale of a family’s will to survive at all costs, even when hope is lost, and a love that spans galaxies.  Connect with me here, on FacebookInstagram and Goodreads.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Next Chapters - The Bridge Between Stars

Pre-order The Bridge Between Stars for the Kindle! 


For the second time in less than an hour, Greyson listened to the telephone ring until her voicemail picked up.
"You've reached Ami Crane." Her recorded voice sounded in his ear, and he felt the same rush he always felt when talking to her.  It was always surprising to him, how excited he felt when even just hearing her voice, an underlay of memories and emotions that made his insides tingle.
 "Do what you do," she said before the beep.
The phone beeped and Greyson hesitated for several seconds before hitting the power button on his phone and ending the call.  He'd left a message the first time he'd called, and he knew that she would call him back when she was ready.  Almost ten years now, and he knew her habits and quirks.  Most of them anyway—she had the tendency to spring new quirks on him when he was least expecting it—and one of those things was ignoring the outside world as she finished a painting.  Sometimes even days before actually finishing a project, Ami would ignore virtually everything that wasn't absolutely required to continue living.  Her finishing time, she called it, pouring everything she had into the work and getting lost in the lines and colors.
"Don't forget to breathe," he would say, grinning at her. She would smile and roll her eyes without actually looking at him, splashes of paint on her face and in her hair, as she kept right on working.
Something thumped above him, the ceiling rattling as two bodies fell to the floor.  Greyson cocked his head toward the sound and listened for the sounds of either laughter or crying.  Instead, it was silent, and he couldn't figure out if that was worse.
"Hey!" Olivia shouted, and he heard giggles followed by a parade of tiny feet running from room to room above.
"Kids!" Greyson yelled.  A door slammed—Olivia's, probably—and his sons came bounding down the stairs.
"Finn, Vigo," Greyson said.  "You guys gotta leave your sister alone.  She's trying to read.”
"Dad, I'm hungry!"
"Me too!"
“You guys are always hungry!” Greyson exclaimed, “and you’ve been eating all day!”
“We’re hungry again!” one of them yelled, but he couldn’t tell which, the voice lost in a flurry of kinetic energy.
"Well, dinner will be ready in a second," Greyson said.  He poured a box of spaghetti into a pot of boiling water and stirred.  He added some salt and olive oil to the water and watched the roiling bubbles break the surface.
"Can we watch something?" Finn asked. Greyson glanced at the clock above the stove and winced. 
The live broadcast.  For weeks, he'd been looking forward to the broadcast, following the stories—every detail about the discovery of the Ctha'nko tribe and the miracle plant everyone was calling the God Lily.  He had paid close attention to the events leading up to that very evening when the Ctha’nko would be introduced to the modern world. 
It was all very exciting.  Something that would likely never happen again in his lifetime. 
He dried his hands on a towel, turned on the television and tuned it to the local station, barely able to contain his excitement.
Commercial break.
Greyson was tempted to change the channel, certain that every other station would be covering the event.  But WSVN Miami was doing a special documentary-like program to recap everything that had happened over the last few weeks.  The discovery of a new people was big news, the God Lily and the miracle drug it produced was even bigger news, and the stories had gone viral, almost instantly.  Greyson had done his best to keep up with everything, but wanted a full recap before the event.
It was, after all, happening right there in town.  The President of the United States and the Secretary of State had both arrived that morning as part of the welcome wagon.  City and state politicians lined up for photo ops with the President, and of course, the Ctha'nko representatives.  The lost people.
The whole thing had an almost cinematic vibe.  Something surreal and just a bit removed from reality.
Greyson loved it.
 "Daaaad!" Vigo drew out the word in protest when he realized that they would be watching the news.  "We want to watch cartoons!"
"Yeah, Dad!  Cartoons!"
"Hey, why don't you guys build a fort with the couch cushions," Greyson said, trying to distract them.  The twins fell silent, looking at him as if expecting a burst of laughter at this hilarious joke. 
Under no circumstances were they allowed to build forts with the couch cushions.  It was one of THE FAMILY RULES, no exceptions.  It was Ami’s rule, mostly because she didn’t like putting all the cushions back together. 
But now, Greyson was giving them a pass.  He really wanted to watch the program, and the only way to ensure peace and quiet was to give them something to do.
The commercials ended, and an aerial shot of Port Miami filled the screen, showing crowds of people pressing against fences and makeshift barriers.  The national guard and secret service stood in front of the crowds, keeping the peace as the President's motorcade approached and parked near a large white tent.
The whole thing screamed pomp and circumstance.  It was a spectacle and fit right in line with the president’s persona.  He was a spectacle, thriving with any and all attention he got from the media, be it good or bad.
A knock at the back door and the twins jumped up from their pile of cushions and pillows and ran to see who it was.
"Kiddos!" a booming voice said, and the twins erupted with laughter.  A large man with thinning white hair stood in the doorway.  He wore white cabana shorts and a Hawaiian shirt that was soaked.  He wiped rain from his forehead and eyes, a big smile splayed out on his face.
"Hi, Don," Vigo said, his tone matter-of-fact, "we're building a huge fort out of the couch cushions."
"Are you, now?  That sounds like a fun time."
"It's because Mom's not here," Vigo said, eyeing Greyson over his shoulder conspiratorially.
"Well," Don said, adopting the same secretive tone, "I won't tell, if you won't tell."
"Dad, it's Don!" Finn shouted, and then rushed back to the fort-in-construction and leapt into the pile of cushions.  Vigo followed right behind, giggling more with each step.  Don stepped into the apartment and shut the door behind him.
"What, not even a greeting?" Don asked.
"Hey, it's already started," Greyson said, only glancing away from the television for a split second.  He nodded for Don to pull up a chair.
"I was in town earlier, traffic was horrible," Don said.  He ignored the offered chair and went into the kitchen.
"Get you something to drink?"  he asked and grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge.  Greyson mumbled a response but didn’t really answer.  Don grabbed him a can of soda anyway.
 Returning to the living room, Don stopped and watched the president standing before the crowd, smiling and waving.
"That guy,” Don said, shaking his head, “just pisses me off.  Why is he even here?  A photo-op?  Good grief man, we've got the underpinnings of nuclear war being played out with the As-ian-ic countries, perpetual unrest with the Muslims, cops killing black people in the streets, unhinged white folks shooting up churches and clubs—when it's not an unhinged terrorist, that is. Attacks all around the world, the country is divided and in worse shape than it's ever been in my lifetime, and we’ve got a photo op.”
 Greyson nodded but didn’t respond.  His eyes never left the television.  Don shook his head and placed the cold can against the other man’s neck.  Greyson jumped away, startled.  He snickered, taking the soda.
“Wow, that was cold,” he said, popping the top.
“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?”
“Not really no,” Greyson snickered and turned back to the television.”
“Old man rumblings, sure.  I’m just an elderly silver alert waiting to happen.  Pay no mind to anything I have to say.”
Greyson smiled.  Don had been living in the apartment complex full time for a little more than two years now.  Before that, he’d been a corporate lawyer in New York, only coming to the island for a few weeks in the summer and for the holidays.  They’d been friends all along, but had gotten to know each other better after Don retired and moved down full time.
His transition into retirement had not been smooth.  His wife had died a few months before, and Don had been lonely.  And bored.  Visiting with Greyson and the kids had become an almost daily occurrence, and with every day that passed, Don seemed to spend more and more time with them.  Greyson didn’t mind—Don was a good guy, and he truly seemed to care about the kids.
“The president is here,” Greyson said after a long swig of Coke, “because of the God Lily.  If it was just the Ctha’nko, then yeah, maybe not warranted to have one of the most powerful men in the world—”
“Buffoon in chief,” Don interjected, and Greyson nodded.
“Of course.  Buffoon or not, the guy is powerful, and so is the God Lily.  World-changingly powerful, and it’s going to save a lot of lives.  He just wants to be on the right side of that power, that’s how I see it.”
Don nodded, though grudgingly, and Greyson was surprised that he didn’t slip into another tirade about this particular president’s finger on the nuclear trigger.  It came up a lot.
Instead, they watched.
Several large boats lined the dock, and Greyson couldn’t help but wonder about how the Ctha’nko handled the short trip on the boats. Until now, their only apparent method of travelling was in long, canoe-type boats that were used for fishing and short trips between the islands that made up their home.  To board those larger boats—heck, to even see them—must have been mind-blowing.
 Greyson tried to put himself into their shoes, to imagine what the Ctha’nko people must be feeling and thinking at that very moment.  All the people and lights, the buildings and even the sidewalks.  The general noise must have been deafening, coming from the relative seclusion of the islands. It was a wonder they hadn’t gone insane.
The camera cut to an interview that was taking place somewhere on the pier, with the crowd and boats in the background.  The reporter, a pretty young woman with a raincoat draped over a red dress, was addressing the camera.  An older man with a thick beard stood to her left, staring into the camera.  He fidgeted from one foot to the other and did not look comfortable with the idea of being on the news.
The reporter—Kelly Ann, as indicated by the bar at the bottom of the screen—smiled her winning smile.
“—thank you, Bill.  Here, I’ve got Dr. Shepherd, who was part of the team that made first contact with the Ctha’nko people.  Dr. Shepherd is a plant geneticist from the University of Florida. In the last few weeks and months, you’ve discussed your experiences on the Santa Anna Islands, and I, for one, am fascinated.  Would you give us a brief recap.”
“Sure, Kelly.  And thank you,” Dr. Shepherd said, taking a deep breath. “It certainly has been a whirlwind.”
“I can imagine,” Kelly agreed, chuckling. 
“As you know, we stumbled upon the Ctha’nko tribe quite by accident.  The expedition to Santa Anna was to locate the Deuslilium Sanguineum, or the God Lily. While on the island, we discovered several pathways.  At first, we didn’t realize what we’d stumbled across—the paths were overgrown with vines.  But soon, it became apparent that there was a distinct pattern to the pathway.”
“And this was significant, because—” Kelly interrupted, but her voice trailed as she allowed him to answer.
“Because the Santa Anna islands were previously thought to be uninhabited,” he finished. “We followed the pathways, which were arranged in a kind of circular pattern that ended at the center of a lake set in the middle of the island.  The pathway continued over the water in the same pattern, but made with wooden beams and planks that were crudely cut and bound with vines.
“The Ctha’nko made contact only after we were on their lake, which we discovered was a sacred ground for them.  Their temple, so to speak.  And it is obvious their sacred altar has had an effect on the world’s population, and more so as the medicines derived from the God Lily have become more available.  From what I understand, imitation Ctha’nko Altars have been constructed in many cities across the US—and people are forming a sort of following to the Ctha’nko, or at the very least, showing respect for the miracles they have given us.”
The image on screen suddenly cut to several aerial shots of large circular structures in several locations.  One in the foothills of Southern California, and another in the forests and fields outside of Boston.  A few smaller structures appeared in several urban areas as well, including one in Central Park, New York.
“Yes, Dr. Shepherd, and we’re showing the audience several places where these structures have been built.  It has been an interesting development to see the Ctha’nko circles popping up, and people are actually visiting these places, leaving flowers and offerings.  Tell us your thoughts on that.”
“Well, Kelly—” the image cut back to the two of them standing on the pier, “—I think this is a difficult time for people.  The world is in a bit of turmoil with no little amount of anxiety, fear and unease about the future.  People see the God Lily, and they see these people who are untouched by the modern world, and it inspires awe.  It is a testament that even in dark times, there are miracles.”
“But to build these structures, doesn’t that strike you as odd.”
“Not really, no,” Dr. Shepherd said.  “We don’t understand the significance of the structure in the Ctha’nko religion, but we do understand that it is significant.  People are simply giving thanks in the only way they know how.  It’s no different from someone hanging a crucifix in their home—it’s a symbol of our worship.”
Kelly nodded and seemed satisfied with this answer.  Greyson thought about that response and didn’t know if sat well with him.  People who hung crucifixes knew the significance the crucifix was to their belief system, but no one knew the significance of the Ctha’nko Altar.  Building replicas and imitations seemed somehow naive and blind.
“Pardon the digression,” Kelly said. “Back to your experience on the island.  Tell us, how was contact first made?”
“Very slowly, very carefully.”  Both Dr. Shepherd and Kelly laughed.
“There was a language barrier, of course,” Dr. Shepherd continued, “so, for the first few days, we communicated with gestures and drawings the best we could.  Later, one of my colleagues at the University arrived, Frances Botenga, an expert in tribal dialects in the Caribbean and Latin America. She was able to establish an oral communication that, while imperfect, seems to be working.”
“Fascinating,” Kelly said, “and we hope to speak with Ms. Botenga later in the evening.  Last question before we cut back to the studio. Was the Ctha’nko—I’m not even sure I’m pronouncing that right.”
“Don’t ask me, either.” Dr. Shepherd laughed, and she joined.
“So, the Ctha’nko, were they welcoming?  Did they accept you?”
“They are the kindest people.  Good people, especially considering the shock all of this must be for them.  And they saved us all.  They gave us the God Lily, after all.”
“Strikes me as a bit naive,” Don said.  He stood up and went back to the kitchen, where the spaghetti was ready.
“You want dinner?”
“Yeah, thanks.”
The kids poked their heads up from the cushions.
“SPAGHETTI!” they yelled in unison.
Don began serving up the pasta, and continued, “The white man invades their territory, and by his own admission, walks right into their sacred places.  They walked right up on their altar, their temple.  We can’t communicate with them, at least not with any level of sophistication.  Yet we assume they are kind and welcoming the moment they don’t kill us.  Seems to me that we should be more worried about their intentions.”
“I don’t know,” Greyson said, jumping up to grab the plates of food for the kids. He and Don had had this conversation several times before.
“Maybe we aren’t their first contact, and they know what to expect.”
“Considering all the hoopla about all this, I’m guessing that theory has been thoroughly vetted.”
“I’m saying,” Don said, “maybe they have met others, and don’t feel threatened.  I mean, surely they have seen airplanes and boats before.  There has to be some explanation as to why they would willingly get on a boat and come to a big city.  Any other group of people that have been isolated from modern civilization would be terrified.”
“Dad, can I have some juice?”
“Sure,” Greyson said.  Don made a move for the fridge, but Greyson waved him back.
“I got it,” he said and pulled a jug of orange juice from the fridge.
“Does it have pulp?” Vigo asked.
“I don’t want any juice if there’s pulp,” Finn said.  After considering a second longer, he said, “but I will have some apple juice.”
Greyson checked the carton and saw that the juice contained LOTS OF PULP.  He rolled his eyes and returned the juice to the fridge. It was a constant battle between his kids, with Olivia loving pulp, sometimes, and the twins refusing to even consider drinking the juice if it was anything but smooth.  He was almost positive that it had nothing to do with taste or texture, but that his kids picked opposing sides on the pulp battle just to be difficult.
Greyson didn’t see any other options for juice.
“What about milk?”
“Yes!” the twins shouted in unison, completely forgetting about the juice or the pulp.  Greyson poured two cups of milk and set them in front of his kids.  He left the milk on the counter in case either of them wanted more.  He picked up a chunk of garlic toast and on his way back to the living room, leaned up the staircase and called to his daughter.
“Hey, O!  Dinner’s ready!”
The commercial break ended as Greyson sat back down, chewing on the crunchy piece of toast.  An image of a crowded room appeared.  Reporters sat quietly in the seats, and cameras from every news station imaginable lined the walls.  At the front of the room stood a small stage, flanked by bouquets of floral arrangements with tropical plants and flowers that looked native to South Florida.  A simple podium stood off center on the stage, leaving most of the stage empty. To either side of the stage was a set of closed double doors, a pair of secret servicemen standing in front of each.
“We have word that the meeting is beginning momentarily,” a newscaster’s voice intoned.  “The President will address us, welcoming the Ctha’nko tribe to the United States.”
Greyson studied the crowd and saw that while most of the people there were reporters and security, it looked like a few civilians from outside had been allowed entrance to the press conference.  He even saw several children sitting among the adults, but they were most likely children of people who’d been on the expedition and had discovered the Ctha’nko to begin with.
A bustle suddenly swept through the crowd.  People sat up straighter in their chairs, leaning forward.  Lenses and microphones pointed toward the door on the left as it swung open and the men in dark suits stepped aside.
Cameras flashed, and people began clapping as the President of the United States of America stepped onto the stage from the left.  He smiled and waved at the audience and cameras, tapping into that same charm that had won two national elections, and which hadn’t yet faded in his six years as President.
Greyson mopped up some marinara with the heel of his garlic toast and chewed on it slowly, watching as the President stood at the podium and motioned for the audience to quiet down.
“Good evening,” he said, his voice low and comforting. Shoulders back and his jaw firmly set, the leader exuded confidence and trustworthiness.  In a nation with a stark political divide, he was a voice of reason.  A bridge between two estranged parties.
Of course, there were people like Don who didn’t see the man as anything more than a clown who’d fallen backwards into his job.
“Five months ago, explorers from our country set foot on an island thought to be uninhabited, and made a discovery that is unprecedented in these times, a flower with incredible qualities that will change the face of medicine forever.  This flower was cultivated and grown by a group of people untouched by modern civilization, living in isolation—”
“I never trusted this guy,” Don interrupted, pointed at the screen. “Really don’t know how he pulled off two elections.”
“It’s the smile, I think.  Seems genuine for some reason.”
“Genuine like a shark.  The guy is still a politician.  The worst—”
“Where’s the shark?” Finn interrupted, suddenly very interested.  Don laughed, turning to look at the boys who were listening more to his conversation with Grey than to the television.
“Observant kids,” Don said, still chuckling.
More cameras flashed in the press room on the television as the President finished his introduction and the door to the right of the stage opened.  A tall man with broad shoulders and a barrel chest stepped through the door first.  He wore a white shirt and tie, but did not seem like a security guard or secret service man.  Instead, he tugged at his collar and looked as though he might rip the shirt off his back at any moment.
“He does not look comfortable.” Don stole the words from Greyson’s thoughts.  “I bet he can’t remember the last time he wore a button-up shirt and tie.”
“That’s Dr. Shepherd, the first one to make actual contact with the Ctha’nko,” Greyson said.
“Never could pronounce that,” Don said.  “How they come up with a name like that I’ll never guess.”
“The ‘t’ is silent, and you’ve got to be silent too.  I’m trying to watch.”
A very tall woman who was adorned with feathers and polished pieces of wood stepped forward.  A woven shawl-like piece of cloth hung from her shoulders, the polished bits of wood woven into the material and glistening in the harsh glare of white lights.  The skin on her chin and neck was a deep purple, and the color continued beyond the rough material that covered her chest and belly.  Tiny dots, the same shade of purple, were painted on her cheeks and forehead, circling her eyes and causing the irises to appear almost the same shade and color.
The woman’s eyes—quite striking and beautiful, Greyson thought—shone with something the opposite of naivety.  She did not appear out of her element, or even if this was new.  Instead, an old intelligence seemed to be buried deep.  Needing no explanation of who he was, she turned to the President and bowed her head.  Her eyes made contact with his, even as the translator made an obviously feeble attempt to explain who he was.
The President nodded and smiled, soaking it all up.
Commentators continued talking, explaining the event like a sports game on ESPN.  It was a matriarchal society, one commentator said, but someone else in the news studio disagreed.  It was clear, however, that whatever her role among the Ctha’nko, she was in charge at the moment.
A man—maybe a Ctha’nko warrior—stepped forward, also dressed in a rough, woven cloth.  Thin shards of polished wood, about the size of quilting needles pierced the skin of his face in several places.  His mouth moved as he spoke several words, too quietly to register for the cameras.  In the warrior’s hands was a long, flat box made of the same polished wood. 
Greyson leaned closer to the television, trying to make out what kind of wood had been used to make the box.  It had a reddish tint, like from a cherry tree.  But as he focused on the box, he saw that the red was not part of the grain, but instead an inconsistent stain on top of the grain.  Not like a finish that had been applied to the polished wood, but more like someone had spilled a glass of wine onto its surface, and the deep red liquid had spread and dripped.
Wine, or…
The woman opened the box, revealing a jumble of tiny carved objects, the same color of polished wood.  She lifted the objects, which were strung together into a necklace, and held it out to the President.  The corners of her lips lifted in a faint smile, and there was something about her smile that was not quite right.  For no apparent reason, Greyson felt a tightening in his stomach.  His heart beat a little faster.
The President must have also seen something on her face, because his own smile faltered.  He hesitated, but the woman motioned for him to come closer.  The President stepped forward, leaning his head toward her and allowing the necklace to be placed around his head and neck.  He straightened, taking the woman’s hand in his and raising it above their heads and facing the camera.
The look on both of their faces triumphant.  The crowd in the news room began to clap and the cameras panned the jubilant faces.  A little girl in a yellow raincoat stood on her seat in the front row and waved a tiny American flag.  A boy who couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than the girl stood beside her in a neatly pressed suit.  They both looked up at Dr. Shepherd, who beamed.
“In what appears to have been a show of respect,” the newscaster said over the image on the screen, “the Ctha’nko matriarch has presented the President with a carved necklace.  A symbol of peace between the leaders of two tribes.”
The President stepped to the podium, but before he opened his mouth to speak, the Ctha’nko warrior holding the polished box moved so fast that his form seemed to blur, leaving a wispy color trail in his wake.  From the bottom of the wooden box, the warrior pulled a small, wooden blade.  Even as small as it was, and as fast as the warrior pulled it from the box, Greyson could see it was sharpened to a point. 
The secret service sprang into action at the sudden movement, diving in front of the President, but the warrior was faster.  He swung the blade into the President’s neck.  The pointed end entered through the back and exited the front, blood splattering the stage in front of him and spilling down the President’s white shirt in rivulets of gore.
“Whoa!” Greyson shouted, jumping to his feet and stepping forward.  Don froze on the couch, unable to react.  For several seconds, it appeared as if everyone in the news conference was likewise frozen in place, unbelieving of what had just happened.
The President stumbled, and several secret service men rushed to his side, keeping him on his feet.  The President stood, the expression on his face a combination of shock and bewilderment.  In almost the same instant, another curved blade appeared in the warrior’s hand—this one also carved from a piece of reddish wood—and he swung it into the President’s chest, driving the man backward and to the ground.
This second attack ignited a furor.  The men surrounding the President drew their guns and began to fire at the Ctha’nko warrior, but the bullets seemed to have no effect as he rushed forward, swinging the circular blade and slicing into the necks of the two closest agents.  Their bodies dropped amidst arterial sprays, even as more agents leapt forward and tackled the warrior.
The Matriarch watched the attacks, her lips curled and her eyes dancing.  Blood dripped from her face and hair, soaked the woven cloth of her dress.  She opened her mouth and uttered several sounds.  The interpreter heard and seemed to understand, staring at the woman and biting her fist in terror.
More Ctha’nko men burst from behind the Matriarch, carved wooden weapons in hand. Their movements were a blur that—like their companion’s before—left behind trails of fading and blurred color.  Screams suddenly erupted, mingled with the staccato bursts of gunfire.  Bodies clamored over one another in the room, and the camera filming the event was knocked to the floor.
“No!” Dr. Shepherd held his hands up in front of the Ctha’nko.  They blurred past him, attacking first the agents with weapons, then moving into the crowd.  Smoke filled the air, punctured with flashes of yellow light from the barrage of gunfire.
The girl in the yellow raincoat rushed forward to Dr. Shepherd, arms outstretched, calling out to her dad. 
Flames burst on the left side of the camera’s frame.
A man huddled among overturned chairs, his arms wrapped around several other figures, his body shielding and protecting.  An arrow fitted with the feathers of tropical birds suddenly sliced through the air and pierced the man in his side.
The Ctha’nko moved through the smoke, blurred shadows. 
Screams and gunshots rose to a fever pitch, melding into a roar of static.
Greyson covered his mouth, unable to breath. 
This is impossible, he thought.
The Matriarch lifted her hands high into the air and began to laugh.
The camera’s feed disconnected and the image went dark.


The Ctha’nko Conspiracy - Harmless Hoax or Malevolent Fraud
By Mark Lewis

Because it’s one or the other, people! WHY NOW?  WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?

With all the excitement about the Ctha’nko visiting Miami to meet world leaders and hand off the God Lily to big pharma.
What “they” want you to believe:
The Ctha’nko: a peaceful tribe that has lived in seclusion, untouched and undiscovered by the modern world.  This benevolent people have a flower that will save you.  Big pharma is already devising ways to rip you off --yes, all you sick and dying people out there-- and steal your money based on this miracle drug.
The Truth: Santa Anna--the island the Ctha’nko people call home--is not exactly undiscovered.  For those of you new to this party, Santa Anna is only a few dozen miles from a number of popular Caribbean tourist destinations and is home to a popular scuba diving site and sandy beaches.  For years, scuba divers have been around that island.  People have visited the beach.  Until a few months ago, THERE WAS NO ONE ON THIS ISLAND!  If there was this entire population of Ctha’nko people, they would have been discovered already. Not to mention, archived screenshots from Google earth show no activity on Santa Anna, even just a year ago.  But now, there is a thriving community built around their sacred altar.  A community supposedly on that island for hundreds of years [or more!!!]
I don’t buy it.
And why all the hoopla now?  Is the “government” trying to distract us from the real life events going on all over the world right now?  Iran and China playing around with nukes.  Terrorist attacks all over the place.  ISIS cutting off people’s heads.  The effing water in our own U.S. of A, killing cities.  And we’re focusing on a flower.  They say it heals disease and conquers maladies, but does it really?  I have yet to see anything more than the proof offered by televangelists (send me your donation to the lord, thankyouverymuch!)

IMHO, the Ctha’nko are all actors, and whatever is going on at that welcome event in Miami, it’s all some elaborate scene to cover up something bigger.
Either that, or the Ctha’nko are aliens.  Pure and simple.
Maybe Morlocks that decided to breach the surface and try it out up here. 
Who knows?  And that’s the point -- we have been told NOTHING!  And don’t even get me started on the current system of delivering the medicine derived from the God Lily -- a lottery.  Shirley Jackson would be so proud.
This lottery is destroying lives, people!!  First, it builds the hope, and then it crushes.

Danden Cho continued reading the blogpost on her tablet, while perching an unlit cigarette between her lips.  She savored the taste of dried tobacco and thin paper wrappings.  The smell and taste of the cigarettes themselves—not the smoke—reminded Danden of her grandfather.  As a little girl, she would sit on his lap, nuzzling his thin frame while he read to her stories and old folktales. 
Her grandfather smoked constantly when outside the home, at work, or with his friends, but usually not at home (and only then on the balcony).  Never around Danden.  But as he read her stories, he would always have a cigarette dangling from his lips, and she would smell the tobacco and wrapping papers as he spoke.  That smell, more than any other, reminded her of being a child.  It brought back the feelings of safety and comfort that she’d felt on her grandfather’s lap, listening to stories come alive with the sound of his voice.  
Danden thought of her grandfather as she breathed in the aroma of the cigarettes.  She finished reading the Ctha’nko Conspiracy post and swiped through a few additional stories--some more on the Ctha’nko, and one on the Sasquatch.  Although a well-respected physicist by trade, she enjoyed stories about the fantastic.  Most of it was nonsense, and it didn’t fit well within the logical construct of her mind, but that was kind of the point.  Mindless entertainment, but better than other forms of similar entertainment because the people producing the drivel actually believed it to be true.
After a few minutes, she stood and opened the sliding glass door leading to her own small balcony that overlooked the city of Miami and Biscayne Bay.  Outside, the rain fell in a soft drizzle, blurring the cityscape before her.  She looked to the left, and between several buildings, she could just make out the cluster of lights on Port Miami, accompanying the welcome event for the Chta’nko tribe and their miracle flower.
Danden turned away from the celebration, a bitter taste in her mouth.  Although she was excited about the whirlwind discovery of the Ctha’nko and the seemingly endless potential uses of the God Lily, she hadn’t quite given into the excitement surrounding the Ctha’nko.  It was almost maniacal, how some people were treating the tribe, assigning them an almost religious fervor.  And that was one point on which she agreed with the blog post.
There was something off about the Ctha’nko, and their altar.  Especially their altar.  She got the chills anytime it flashed on screen, and now people were building similar altars as a show of tribute and thanksgiving.  The whole thing gave her the creeps; that people would be so devoted to such an unknown was unbelievable and scary.
Danden finished her cigarette and left the butt smoldering in an ashtray on the ledge of her balcony.  Back inside, she went to the fridge and rummaged for a snack.
Her phone buzzed a single beat from the countertop where she’d placed it.  She ignored it, pulling a bag of sliced vegetables from the crisping drawer and beginning to munch.  Her phone buzzed again, and then three more times in quick succession.
Frowning, she picked up the phone and saw that she had received several emergency alert notifications, each advising that people remain indoors.
“That’s odd,” she muttered and pressed the Home button to awaken her phone.  As she did, a text message flashed at the top of the screen.

are youuu seeing thsi???

It was from Meena, a friend and co-worker who lived on the thirty-second floor of her building.  They’d been together just an hour before, enjoying drinks at the bar in the lobby of their building.
Danden replied, simply:


Immediately, three circles appeared, indicating that Meena was typing a response.  It came within a few seconds:

turn on newws!

“Ok,” Danden muttered, her brow furrowed.  She’d tried the television earlier, but most news channels were covering the event at Port Miami, in which she had little interest, so she had switched it off.
A local news station appeared on the screen.  She watched several seconds of shaky footage shot from a cell phone.  Whoever was carrying the phone was being chased by figures with scant clothing and skin painted dark red and black.
It took Danden several more seconds before she realized the people chasing were Ctha’nko warriors.  When the camera lingered long enough to see their faces, she saw splatters of blood across the dark paint, and looks of rage and hunger.
At first she thought she was imagining that expression, but it was there: what appeared to be an insatiable hunger.  A lust for blood.
A feeling of dread crept up from the pit of her stomach.
One of the warriors swung an axe, connecting off screen with the person who’d been running with the camera. The image tilted as the camera dropped to the ground, framing a dense patch of fog, from which more Ctha’nko seemed to be climbing--pulling themselves up and out, as if climbing from a root cellar.
Clouds of mist twisted and curled among the panic-stricken crowd.  They ran as a mob, people falling and being trampled.  The Ctha’nko ran with impossible speed, cutting down all that lived.
A news commentator was saying something about the President of the United States, but Danden wasn’t listening.  She stood frozen, transfixed on the screen.  Terror grew within her like strangling vines as she watched the splattering blood and insane fury.
The image cut to another shot where more people were being killed.
This can’t be happening, Danden thought frantically, and then: How is this happening?
Her phone buzzed with a new text, and she screamed--nearly dropping the phone.  It was Meena again.

Wtf is going on?

The end of the world, Danden thought in reply.

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