Christian Fantasy Speculative

Slowly, Alec Brumberg waded through the dust.  Days came and went since the last bit of debris trickled down like acid rain after long episodes of shaking and rumbling.  The powder caked everything below in what looked like a winter wonderland.  Outside, he instinctively knew it was no different.  His stomach groaned without end, and if he didn’t find any food soon, he was certain to waste away like the rest.

Finally, a shaft of light split the shadowy depths from whence he clawed his way.  The path to freedom was obstructed with rocky outcroppings that were once the walls and floors of conference rooms where covert meetings took place.  After another two or three hours of purchase through the ungodly labyrinth—Alec lost count of time—he was finally doused in sunlight as if his journey stopped at the end of the rainbow.  Instead of elation, however, he was stricken with the urge to lash out in terror.  Another blanket of snow met his hungry eyes, no different than what lied beneath the wreckage.  He was desperate to find anybody who could have weaned him back to health.  Alas, there was no one else around.  He made no qualms about his dependency on others when he was out of options, that his family lineage was rife with incredible wealth spoiling him to no end, giving him the free range to shove his weight around the world.  What took a hatchet to his soul was the loss of such authority.

Hours went by as fast as the sun could illuminate his struggle through the rubble and rot.  Soon, he was submersed in darkness—another day to challenge his fate that only shear will stubbornly belayed.  The air, however, remained as dead as a mausoleum.  He sneezed.  What am I inhaling?  He persistently asked himself.  That wouldn’t matter in the long haul since it was apparent his days were numbered.  Now, pitched in eternal night, he focused on the troubles at large and frantically searched for any means of shelter from the filth and dust billowing through the air.

What turned out to be a hospital faded into view.  It appeared intact, and he scrambled through the front entrance, which to his relief, was thankfully left unlocked.  Searching for a means of escape, he stopped before an elevator shaft.  He came to the realization when pressing the button there was no longer any power.  What a fool he was to fall for an old habit!  The grid was out for days…not since the first seconds after that fateful midnight hour.  Continuing to scramble through the facility, he came across an open stairwell, and sparing no additional moment, blindly pattered down to the basement below.

The room was pitch black, without echo.  Dust carpeted the floor, and he could feel its texture squelching beneath his feet.  However, the layer of filth was thin from what he could judge when taking an extra step.  As he settled down to rest, exhaustion flooded him like a damn breaking before a raging river, and he collapsed under the weight of his own gravity.  His chest felt heavy and his breathing labored.  Perhaps it was the final occasion.  It was a time to forget, to cast away the past that hung from him like a broken noose.  Now, he could depart in peace without the thrumming of traffic and chatter of crowds that filled the world like a perennial season of chaos.  His eyes shut like the doors of an airplane hangar, and he found himself drifting off into the far depths of eternity.

Moments later, he awakened.  It felt like seconds.  He was still tired, and the same blackness met his eyes.  Part of him relented that he woke up at all.  He wanted to be done with it, never to see the world again.  But something kept pecking at him, no matter how much he tried to ignore it.  Without warning, a voice blared throughout the room.  To his consternation, there was no echo.  He surmised it rung from inside his head.  Who could it have been?  Had he just gone mad?

The voice boomed again, shouting, “Rise, Mr. Brumberg.  There is something you need to see.”

“Another survivor?  Have you come to rescue me?”

“Such insolence from someone bent on looking for a helping hand!”

“Who dares address me so callously?”

“I do.  Now, rise, oh, humble one, and come with me.”

“Can’t you see I’m not long for this—”


“I can’t even see you.”  Alec splayed his hands, pivoting from side to side.  He left the door to the room ajar where he barely making out the daylight seeping from beyond the upper landing of the stairwell.

“But you can sense my presence.  Now, do as I say!”

Despite his stubbornness, Alec lumbered up into an awkward stance.  Strangely, his body no longer ached and the pall of fatigue had lifted as if snatched away by some unseen magician.  Without understanding how he kept track of whoever woke him out of his slumber, he found himself clambering back up the stairs and out into a brand-new city.

He was dumbstruck.

To his puzzlement, the tableau of grandeur, the majestic heights and architectural splendors that jutted into the clouds of a deep blue vault belied the wasteland he was shambling through only minutes before.  The city was more sound, vibrant and dazzlingly elegant than any metropolitan landscape he ever set eyes upon.  Yet, to his dismay, something was off, but he couldn’t pinpoint what it was.

“Come…” the voice commanded.  Alec reluctantly followed, shuddering at what he would discover.

Upon the first sign of life, he was gobsmacked with the uncanny revelation.  The streets and skies were swarming with vehicles and transport vessels, the likes of which he only dreamed about.  Even the residents looked content, without stress, without the wear and tear from the daily onslaught of vicissitudes.  It was a page out of a Norman Rockwell painting, or the title card of a mid-twentieth century Disney musical.  However, his typically inviolable decorum took a massive hit at the shear horror that nearly blew his heart straight out of his aortal cavity.  

Time was standing still.  Nothing moved as if each facet was reduced to a three-dimensional painting, a hologram depicting an ideal future vision from the greatest thinkers and planners.  No car, no floating platform, person or animal made any kind of motion.  They were as frozen as the Antarctic ice shelf that, if melted away, would yield a new lifeform as alien to Alec as a paleolithic clade.

“Can you tell me what you see, Mr. Brumberg?”  The voice resonated, startling Alec every time it spoke from out of the blue.

Alec was too busy spinning his head around and around at a site that flipped known physics on its head.  If this was some kind of computer-generated hoax, it was certainly an elaborate one, he contended to himself.

The people he came across were paragons of their environment.  He stared into the eyes of a woman with a deceptive sparkle that appeared alive.  Perhaps it was the case with everyone present, in spite of resembling a sea of statues.  Something else caught his eye.  A man a few feet away looked as though he was about to collide with the woman, suggesting an awkward start to a fabled romance.  The crowd around them was a backdrop of similar stories, or stories inherent to their circumstances.  Nonetheless, it was a disturbing sight.

“Mr. Brumberg, are you paying attention?”

Alec shook his head.  “Sorry.  I was kind of distracted by this…”  He was too astonished to finish his sentence as he gazed upon what must have been a simulacrum of sorts.

“What?  A eulogy for human potential?”  The voice interposed.

“I guess?  I don’t even know what you did.  And where did all those rocket cars come from?”  He said, gesturing to the sky.  “I’m not sure what kind of game you’re playing, but I know it’s making me extremely uncomfortable.”

The nerve of this strange entity tarnishing his impeccable image!  Never before was he made so vulnerable.

“Isn’t it a beautiful sight?  You seemed to think so when you examined those two eminent lovers whose course you, to your credit, correctly identified.”

“Sure—when you’re not stuck in the midst of a giant conundrum.  I still don’t know where you’ve taken me!”

“I know.  Now, follow me.”


He received no verbal answer but a force tugging him toward the end of the block.  Moments later, he came across a park mottled with vendors, families and children at play.  A young man wearing a Panama hat was handing his putative wife—or girlfriend—a present wrapped in a tight blue bow.  It might have been a box of chocolates; Alec didn’t know, and he continued to scan the diorama.  To the couple’s left, a labrador galloped across the lawn in pursuit of a boy and a girl.  They were clearly running, but their open smiles connoted anything but fear.  The dog’s ears and neck were perked, the jowls spread and the creature sported a collar evincing ownership.  Alec crept further, past the dog and toward a grove of elms where a flurry of pigeons gathered around the locals in a quaint little snapshot of smalltown life.  He even noticed a couple of feathers trailing behind, stuck in time as if propped by invisible pins.  From the trajectory observed, some were flocking toward an older man happily seated on a bench, holding a red and white-striped bag and scattering a handful of pellets.  The ground in front was cluttered with sunflower seeds and millet, several of which cascaded back toward the direction of the man. 

The scene looked like a pastiche, a slice of Americana that never existed or was lost to the ocean of time, each wave representing a forgotten era razed in favor of new modernities where innocence was scorned and kindness condemned as feeble-minded.  At least that was how Alec envisioned it according to the teachings hammered into him since youth.  Still, it baffled him on how such a tableau of social antiquity could have been juxtaposed with a towering skyline and a fleet of spaceships from horizon to horizon.  He ironically snorted, even with a knot growing deep inside his throat.

Out of nowhere, something clicked; a sudden shift in perception overcame his lifelong myopia.

Whatever trickery of imagination seized his febrile mind, he couldn’t help but recognize the location, despite the vast difference in urban layout.  It was a metaphysical feeling, incapable of concrete explanation, and his jaw nearly dropped to the immaculately polished sidewalk.

“I don’t know how you—this is—isn’t this where I worked?”  He said, stumbling toward the realization while jerking his head along the horizon as if fastened to the rolling track of a drawer.  

“Among other places around the globe.”

“I still don’t know why you’re giving me a grand tour of your little fantasy world.”

“What’s so ‘fantasy’ about it?  Has it not been triggering your reservations?”

“Reservations?” He shrilled in tacit denial.  “Real or not, I’m shocked by it!”

How did this entity, or whatever it was, know what he was thinking?  Was his immaculate shell beginning to crack?  Such a shedding of persona would have been professional suicide among his colleagues festering in the elite circles.

“I think you understand.”

“Understand what?”  Despite his rising pangs of guilt, he remained stubbornly defensive, becoming surlier in the process.  “Who do you think I am?  Have you seen what I’ve done?  The people I freed, the cultures I enriched, the wealth I generated?  What you’re showing me spits upon my achievements, eviscerates my will and turns my philosophy upside down.  Do you know what it’s like to have everything you stood for ripped apart and soiled?”  In the midst of his protest, he broke out in a sweat.  Despite the coldness in the air, his palms and forehead dampened in fear.  His guilt was compounding.

“Precisely as I saw it.”

“Excuse me?”

“It required little effort to reveal who you really were, even to yourself.  A world of this nature was beyond your ken of vision.  Mr. Brumberg, are you so obtuse as to ignore the truth placed in front of your eyes because you toted a narrative immutable in all capacities?”

“You’re funny,” he retorted, speaking with a marked ululation as beads of sweat poured down his face.  “I’m a victim of war, I lost everyone I knew, everything I owned, and now I’m watching some future iteration of a city that, moments earlier, was an ashen heap of rubble.  Also, demolishing my Open World Foundation building for a pretty tract of astroturf was the final straw!”

“You’re wrong, Mr. Brumberg.  Your Open World building never existed in this timeline.  As a matter of fact, it only served as a testament to your ungodly work!”

“Me?”  He gestured with both open hands toward his chest.  The facial expression was in a perpetual grimace of accusation.  “You think everything I did was ungodl—?”

“You know what I mean,” the voice boomed again, cutting off Alec.  “Those beautiful children you see gamboling through the grass…?”

“What about—”

“They will never be around to enjoy the life they would have otherwise inherited, to endure hardships only to find the answer, to discover love, foster a family and use their expertise to build upon the world, ushering humanity into a new threshold of social evolution.  You, Mr. Brumberg, chose your own path that robbed them of their future, betrayed their trust, and destroyed their world!”

“Don’t be a fool!  You created this—I don’t know—this simulation…to gaslight me into submitting to whatever demands you ask of me.  People are diverse, often at variance with one another.  I worked to fix those problems within the parameters of human limitations and the resources with which to make those changes, not dream up with some idealistic model playset!”

“You mean you made excuses to fashion graven images of yourself at the expense of innocence, corrupting the children and tarnishing their heritage!  You’ve not only denied others their right to the future, but you’ve abruptly stopped evolution in its very path!  Your work was a mockery of life, embracing the mediocre, the insoluble.  It was a game to satiate your carnal lust, to engineer the world into a shadow of its former self.  Now, I hope you understand that all you built turned to dust caking your city in an endless veil of death.  Look around!”

“Look around where—?”

He stopped in his tracks as he was thrusted back into the smoldering derelict where the sky matched the ground and hope was cast to the wind.  The shining beacon of mankind’s hope vanished without a trace.  He became catatonic, stuck in a thousand-yard stare.  He looked as though he was reflecting, but there was nothing inside to reflect upon except a void of callous calculation, deception and megalomania.  Stricken with panic, he began to convulse, and his guilt fueled his rage.

“Here lies the crucible summarizing your life’s work,” the voice continued to remonstrate, “an epigram with which to adorn your tombstone!”

“What?  You mean—”

“You’ve been the whole time. “ 

“Since when?”

“Since you laid down in that abandoned hospital.  It seemed uncannily appropriate!”

“No…no…no!”  Alec was rattled out of his unbreakable veneer of confidence.  “This can’t be!”

“Alas, it is!  You even argued you were not long for this world when I roused you.”

“But…but…” he sputtered.  After a momentary pause, he concluded, “Then if what you’re saying is true, then you must be—”

“It no longer matters who I am, but what you’ve done.  Now here you lie, poxed with the ruminations of your vane pursuits burning all that was left of human dignity!”

The reproof thundered into oblivion.  The only sound that followed was a gentle wind that stirred through the ruins, whistling its swansong past the shores of time.  There were no happy couples or boisterous children, scampering squirrels or playful pets.  Above, there were no spaceships, flying cars or floating platforms.  All that was left was an endless pallor dimming the hazy light of the sun into a beacon of despair.  It was hell, an endless plain of desolation built upon crafted rhetoric masking the deeds of the flesh with the promise of a dubious paradise.  Alec, in all his malice and envy, refused to answer for such iniquities, to forgive or implore for mercy.  Rather, he made a final act of defiance and double-downed on his conceit.

“Then at least I had the last laugh!”  He leaned into a random direction and obnoxiously guffawed.

“Think again, Mr. Brumberg!  Behold…”

A shower of glitter burst out of nowhere before Alec’s slackened face.  He glowered as the apparition materialized into a long sheet of paper.  It looked like papyrus.

“What is it?”

No answer came.  He stared at the document suspended in mid-air just like the objects in the simulacrum.  His eyes flared.  Grabbing it like a newspaper from a coffee table, he perused the document, his eyes frantically darting back and forth.

Seconds later, he dropped his hands to his sides, dragging the document down, and stared dead-eyed into empty space.  His name was a forgotten relic of the final page in human history.  Not only did his name vanish from memory, but his deeds left no other soul to remember the great war he started under the pretext of his totalitarian ambitions masquerading as utopian visions.  The last thing he heard was a mocking laugh that reverberated into the moaning void.

And there he remained in the city of perdition, the final relic of his foundation’s design, forever pining and scraping in sorrow on the plane of his own creation.

January 26, 2024 03:50

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