Category Archives: science fiction

Heroes save us in sometimes strange ways!

We all need heroes. They inspire individuals and nations, helping us to rally around common causes (some noble, some not). But in the science fiction story below I wrote several years ago, the hero saves a small piece of our world from aliens in a most unusual way. Enjoy!

HEROES, ALL

by Steven Fisher

 

In times of danger, heroes save us, often in strange ways.

The smell of wood smoke and the erratic banging of a distant door guided the laboring hiker down out of the snow-packed Tennessee hills and into the clearing on the Natchez Trace.

The hiker paused to rest, grateful that his hard push had allowed him to reach his destination the day before October 11. For the last mile, the wind had been picking up and driving the snow in a stinging tattoo against the unbearded portions of his face.

The message couldn’t be any clearer. The Assocran body tourist he’d been assigned had a hair up its alien rear end and was going to make everything difficult for him, including the weather.

The Assocra liked to play with their human servants. The maddening part was that through the shifting curtains of snow the hiker could see grass and the autumn-tinged trees. Walter Smart was the center of his own weather system—a blizzard in October.

Walt sighed and stopped to wipe snot from a snub nose that had lost most of its feeling. Then he pulled at the straps of the heavy backpack and rubbed the sore spots beneath while waiting for his steaming breath to clear away enough for him to survey the site of his destination.

In the middle of the open ground stood what he’d expected—an inn with the slamming door. The inn had been built out of rough-hewn oak with the seams caulked with a white-washed mixture of mud, sand, and grass. Flanking the inn was a well, a cabin, and a barn.

Glad to be in sight of shelter, Walt trudged down out of the forest and into the clearing. He walked to the inn and grabbed the door before the wind could smack it against the frame again. He stuck his head inside and recoiled at the stench of fresh dung. Taking a deep breath and holding it, he went through the door.

Inside, he found neither human nor alien, only two bristly pigs keeping themselves warm in front of a crackling fire as if they were the guests instead of the intended body tourist.

“Shit!” Walt swore. “Shit, shit and more shit—that’s my life.”

Dropping the pack onto the dirt floor, he grabbed a straw broom from the corner and whacked the pigs across their fat hindquarters. They ran squealing out into the snow. Walt pulled the door shut quickly and secured it to cut off the inflow of frigid air. It had been a long hike from Nashville, and he was cold and tired.

“Not that the tourist will care when it arrives,” he muttered and turned to check out the interior of the frontier inn uptimed from 1809 Tennessee.

The aliens had the power to snatch entire buildings and people from the past and present and move them anywhere on Earth, but contemporary humans were not permitted to use the instantaneous transport. Servants still had to use the back door.

“Mile and miles of back door for me,” Walt grumbled as he examined the interior of the inn.

At the rear was the “bar”, two spruce fir planks laid across pickle barrels. Additional barrels acted as stools with spittoon buckets placed strategically beside them. Above the bar hung a wooden sign with the name of the inn carved into it, Grinder’s Stand. The only touches of civilization were the ornately-framed 10-foot mirror hung on the wall behind the bar above the bottles, and a single glass window on the south side of the building.

Walt knew the liquor bottles, mirror and the window glass had been transmitted from the present. Such items would have been an expensive rarity on the early frontier, but body tourists—like human tourists– only liked their authenticity up to the point where it didn’t cause them any discomfort. The mirror and the window were no surprise to him. The aliens liked mirrors in which they could check the condition of the bodies they inhabited. In some obscure, preening way, it seemed to please them that they were in possession of the finest minds in Earth’s history. And they needed windows because they didn’t like spaces without light. What that said about their home planets, he had no idea.

“And I could care less,” he said to the empty interior as he dug into his pack and pulled out the treat he’d been saving for the end of his journey—two strips of buffalo jerky, a jar of raspberry jam, and a can of Coke.

With his free hand, he dragged a barrel in front of the fireplace and sat down to enjoy his meal. He knew he had time to eat before serving the Assocran. Body tourists were always late. The alien concept of time and the human concept of time were as distant from each other as the home planets of the invaders were from Earth. Plus, the aliens simply liked to make humans wait. It was a conqueror’s privilege

A sudden shimmering of light by the fireplace and the smell of ozone caused Walt to drop his Coke onto the floor. The brown liquid formed a muddy, fizzing spot in the dirt.

“Fuck me! I get one who’s early!” he cursed as he hurriedly stood and placed the jam jar and the half-eaten beef jerky strip on the sitting-barrel.

Wiping his hands on his pants, Walt waited until the alien materialized into solidity and said, “I’m happy to greet you, Captain Lewis.”

Long experience in dealing with body tourists made the guide spin about and grab a spittoon bucket. He bent over it before the alien pressed a wrist-button and caused the usual reaction. Walt’s stomach spasmed and spewed out the jerky, the jam, and the Coke. Chills, fever, nausea, weakness—the induced illness was a good way to keep the subjugated down, but it never seemed to occur to the aliens that the illness didn’t put human guides in a good mood for serving their needs.

“As if it mattered to them,” Walt muttered into the bucket. The smell of vomit rose up to mock his helplessness. “God give me strength.”

Walt raised his eyes from the bucket to the mirror. The reflection in it gave him a start.

Screw you, God! Walt cursed. The tourist wasn’t Captain Meriwether Lewis striding across the inn to drop his posterior onto a sitting-barrel.

It was William Clark in a full swallow-tailed blue and white uniform.

Walt shook his fevered head, trying to get his jumbled thoughts to line up into a semblance of order. That idiot Hampton’s made a mistake. He was supposed to uptime Lewis, the leader of the expedition, not his partner, Clark! As far as I know, William Clark was never near Grinder’s Stand. At least not on this date.

“Guide? You are the guide, are you not?” the body tourist snapped, tapping an impatient finger on the bar.

Walt straightened up and waited for the dizziness to pass before pasting a smile onto his face and turning to face the alien-occupied body.

The alien stared at Walt through William Clark’s eyes. It was the gaze of an arrogant, impersonal conqueror. Like Lewis, Clark had been a Virginian, a seasoned soldier and an expert frontiersman. For the Corps of Discovery, Clark had been the perfect easy-going complement to the tightly-wound Lewis—a “people person”, adept at dealing with Native Americans and expedition members alike on their epic journey across America. The men in the Corps of Discovery had respected Meriwether Lewis, but William Clark had been respected and liked.

Walt didn’t like the alien-inhabited William Clark body seated before him, though. He sensed trouble beyond the usual Assocran disdain for the human race. It showed in the stiff posture and measuring eyes.

“Yes, sire, I’m the guide,” Walt apologized quickly.

“You are certain, servant? A fully trained guide?”

“Yes, sire.”

“Then, why is it that you were surprised to see me?”

“Surprised, sire? Not me.”

The alien narrowed William Clark’s eyes and said coldly, “I read human faces well, servant. Very well.”

The term “human” came out in a snake’s hiss of “eweman”.

“It’s the induced illness, sire. At times, it causes mental confusion amongst us humans.”

The alien twisted Clark’s mouth into a sneer beneath the fleshy, patrician nose. “Always attempting to blame the ‘illness’ for your coarse inadequacies. The Detrimental Acts Inhibitor keeps humans from attacking their betters and will continue to do so despite your efforts to have us rid you of the DAI. Now, where is the innkeeper? There should be one, should there not?”

“Apparently, Mrs. Grinder was not uptimed for this tour, sire,” Walt explained. “Perhaps the time of the transmission was not optimum. I’m told these things sometimes occur.”

The Assocran pounced on this remark. “And which human told you those things?”

Walt avoided the trap. “No human, sire. I know perfectly well that such information is forbidden knowledge. I learned it from other body tourists.”

Irritated by Walt’s answer, the alien blew an exasperated sigh from Clark’s lips. “Well, then, serve me an authentic drink, you pile of shit. That is the appropriate human term, is it not? That’s what you are, after all. A pile of shit.”

“Yes, sire,” Walt said and turned to the counter behind the bar. He scanned the bottles, checked them again, and swore under his breath. He turned back to the alien.

“I have to apologize again, sire. It appears the Uptime delivery did not include the liquor authentic to 1809. Perhaps it was unavoidable oversight. However, there are plenty of contemporary pleasure beverages available.”

The alien reddened William Clark’s face and shouted, “I have the authentic body. I have the authentic inn. And now you’re telling me that there is no authentic whiskey. That’s what I exchanged credits for, you fool. Authenticity!”

“I am terribly sorry, sire. Is there hope that the Uptime mechanism will be adjusted properly while you’re here, and we can deliver what is required of our service?”

“You’re missing the point, you human idiot! I am here, and I want service that I’m not getting!”

“Sire, again, I’m very, very sorry!” Walt searched the rows of bottles again hurriedly and grabbed a bottle of Glenfiddich. “How about that contemporary beverage I mentioned–single malt scotch? Lewis and Clark didn’t have it on their expedition, but it has a long and honorable human history. Besides, if you want to know the truth, drinking American corn whiskey in 1809 was like swallowing battery acid.”

“Battery acid?”

“It’s a human way of saying that the stuff had a terrible taste. A comparison to a substance that is corrosive and dangerous to the human condition, sire. This scotch has a much superior taste.”

The alien rolled William Clark’s eyes toward the ceiling in exasperation, but said, “Give me the scotch, then”

As he poured a double shot of Glenfiddich, Walt nodded his head toward the window and asked,

“May I ask a question, sire?”

The alien knocked back the drink and responded, “No.”

“Pardon my presumption, sire, but my role at the moment is that of bartender, and it’s in the nature of human bartenders to ask questions—to encourage people to talk.”

The alien regarded Walt skeptically. Then, he shrugged William Clark’s shoulders and said,

“Ask.”

“Perhaps the weather interfered with the Uptime transmission? Blizzards are very unusual in middle part of Tennessee, especially in the month of October.”

The body tourist turned to peer out the window. “Blizzard–that is the human term for this weather condition?”

This time it was Walt’s turn to roll his eyes, if only mentally. The Assocran had created the blizzard and was now claiming ignorance of its name. The alien was playing with him, waiting for a lapse that would indicate humans were guilty of possessing more knowledge than they were allowed to have.

Walt maintained a façade of innocence and answered, “Yes, sire. It’s snow—basically, frozen water—created by a clash of air masses. That is, that’s the natural cause on this planet.”

“It’s very cold?”

“Cold is relative to the being experiencing it, of course. May I ask what the Assocra define as cold on your planet of origin?”

The alien drew Clark’s face into a cold mask of offense.

“That is the height of impertinence, guide.”

Walt managed a look of contrition for having breached human-alien protocol. His response mollified the alien, and annoyance passed off the face of William Clark.

“On Assocra Prime, cold is…4.4 Celsius, I believe is the term. Or, 277.6 Kelvin. Isn’t there a third measure? You humans are so inconsistent about such things.”

The alien was unusually chatty. This worried Walt, but he decided to prime the pump of conversation in hopes that more would be revealed.

“You’re right, sire, we are inconsistent. Well, right now, I would guess the temperature outside this inn to be in the twenty to thirty below zero range as measured on the Fahrenheit scale. With the heavy winds, I’d estimate a wind chill factor–the measure of the effect of cold on bare human skin—to be high. Possibly in the fifty below range.”

The alien caused William Clark to pull up a sleeve and pinch the skin of an arm. A genuine emotion crossed his face. It was curiosity.

“How would the, ah, real Captain Clark have handled this kind of cold?”

“It depended on where he happened to be at the moment,” Walt answered. “Most likely, he would have stayed inside a cabin like this or a tent or a Mandan lodge. If caught outside, he would have simply bundled up in a buffalo robe and waited it out.”

The alien frowned and stood up unsteadily while he tugged the sleeve down and smoothed it free of wrinkles. Slurred words came out of the Assocran’s mouth. “I should go back out and experience this blizzard for myself. Really experience it, I mean.”

“Great idea,” Walt agreed, delighted with the prospect of being free of the alien, if only for a few moments. And there was always the possibility that the alien, being ignorant of real cold, might get careless and freeze himself to death. “Direct experience of phenomena is always the best choice.”

The face of Clark bunched itself into abrupt anger. The alien-possessed body reached an arm across the bar, clutched the guide by the throat, and squeezed hard.

“You…human!” the alien bellowed.

Walt struggled for breath.

“You would send me out there, wouldn’t you?” the alien snarled as he squeezed harder. “You would send me out there to freeze this body—and me—to death, wouldn’t you? You think I’m the usual body tourist! Well, I’m not! I’m an investigator. I’m here to find out why my people are not coming back from their Uptime “vacations”, as you humans say. And you’re going to give me answers, vermin. All the answers!”

The alien jerked Walt across bar and threw him onto the dirt floor. Walt gasped for air and scrambled backward away from the furious Assocran.

“Stop moving!” the alien ordered. “You know you can’t escape me. Or your punishment.”

Walt stopped and whimpered.

The alien strode across the room and kicked the guide in the side with Clark’s moccassined foot. “Stop that noise, or I will double the punishment.”

Ashamed of his display of weakness and terrified that the alien would make good on the threat, Walt stifled the crying and stiffened his mind against the inevitable.

“The usual punishment meted out by Lewis and Clark for misbehavior during the expedition was the whip, was it not, human? I said, was it not?”

Walt jerked his head in agreement.

“Painful on human flesh, no doubt?”

Stop toying with me, you bastard! Walt raged.

“Then think upon how painful it will be upon the excuse for a brain that occupies the inside of your useless head. Fifty lashes. No, no, let’s make it 100 lashes to loosen your tongue. Yes, 100 lashes of different flavors.”

And the alien sent the mental whip against Walt’s mind. The guide screamed at the flick of rawhide on the surface of his brain.

“The bullwhip. The scourge. The cat-o-nine-tails. Many types of whips made by humans to punish their own. How appropriate is it not that humans should be punished by their own invention? I said, is it not appropriate, human?”

A vicious lash goaded Walt into howling agreement.

“Oh, stop your puling! Pull yourself together. The equation is simple: Give me answers, and the flogging ends. Are you ready for an end to the pain?”

“Yes…yes!” Walt gasped.

“You will tell me the truth, I know that,” the alien said. “Because you know the next step—and what is the next step?”

“Sa…salt…you rub salt into the wounds.”

“Very good. So, if you don’t tell me the truth, I will make sure those mental wounds in your pathetic mind will burn and sting until your brain is nothing more than the dried meat of your frontier ancestors. Are we in mutual comprehension now?”

“Yes, damn it!”

“Again, very good. Now, tell me, what has happened to the tourists?”

Buy time! Buy time! Walt urged himself although every instinct of self-preservation screamed at him to tell the truth and head off intolerable pain.

“Perhaps…perhaps sire can be more specific?”

“I warned you–”

“Sire must remember that I am human and have no knowledge of happenings at other sites. It’s against the law for me to have such information. All I know is that nothing unusual has occurred here.”

The Assocran favored Walt with another cold, suspicious stare from Clark’s face, but responded, “It’s possible you are telling the truth, so I will inform you of the situation. In the last earth-month since the conquering was completed, fifteen Assocrans have died shortly after inhabiting bodies of notable humans from the past and present. This is not acceptable.”

“Perhaps, it’s a fault of the Uptime mechanism,” Walt suggested.

A quick lash against his brain was the answer to his idea.

“The mechanism is not at fault, you idiot! It works well, just as it always has on thousands of conquered planets. The deaths can only mean one thing—human sabotage. And sabotage means murder. I want to know how you do it. How do you kill my people?”

“I…I’m sorry, sire, I don’t see how we could do such a thing. You have seized control of our best and brightest, haven’t you?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Then, the rest of us don’t possess the mental capacity to commit such an act.”

“True, but you do possess the feral cunning of defeated vermin. Survival instincts often prompt ‘creative’ responses that have nothing to do with intelligence—or lack of it, in your case.”

“I cannot give you answers I don’t have, sire. Ah….wait a minute…I was wrong, sire, abjectly wrong a moment ago when I said that nothing unusual had occurred at this site. Perhaps this will give us a clue as to what has happened to your people.”

The alien raised Clark’s eyebrow in interest.

“What has occurred that is unusual?”

“Ah…you, sire.”

“Me? What do you mean?”

“Remember, sire. You arrived in the body of William Clark, and you noticed that I was startled. That’s because you were supposed to arrive in the body of Meriwether Lewis. So far as I know, William Clark was never in Grinder’s Stand on this date. And he certainly wouldn’t have been wearing a full dress uniform to travel the length of the Natchez Trace.”

“Go on.”

“Then, it was a mistake, a mistake of ignorance about our history on the part of another human. Was the human travel agent who directed you to Clark’s body named Hampton?”

“Yes.”

“Ah, yes, that’s definitely the source of the problem then.”

“What do you mean?”

“Charles Hampton is a new agent, sire. He may not yet have complete knowledge of particulars concerning the leaders of the Lewis and Clark expedition.”

The alien glowered. “Go on.”

“I’m afraid you’re in the wrong body, sire. You should be in that of Captain Meriwether Lewis. He was the one who was supposed to be at Grinder’s Stand on this date. More importantly, he was a better fit for you. He was the leader of the Corps of Discovery during the early 1800s. He was a gentleman, a leader, a soldier, a scientist, a…well, I could on, but he possessed all the best qualities of a human being. In short, he was more worthy of your occupation of his body than was William Clark.”

“I’m in the wrong damned body?” the alien roared. “The wrong damned body! Of all the incompetent—well, how are you going to fix this?”

“I can’t, sire.”

“Can’t? Can’t? I’ll teach you ‘can’t’. More lashes of the mental whip will take that word out of your vocabulary.”

Walt shouted before the alien could take action. “I can’t, sire, but you can!”

“What do you mean?”

“Return—it’s inconvenient, I know—return to the agent and transfer to the correct body.”

The alien purpled William Clark’s face. “You’re damned right it’s inconvenient!”

“My deepest apologies, sire, but it’s the only solution I am capable of coming up with at the moment.”

“The limited capabilities of humans are well known….and, oh never mind! I will make the transfer and return—”

The alien interrupted his tirade to shake a warning finger at Walt. “But, if anything is amiss with this body, I will shred your mind into as many pieces as there are snow crystals in the wind outside. Then, I will put all those pieces back together and shred all over again. Am I perfectly clear?”

Walt paled and whispered, “Yes, sire, oh yes, perfectly clear, I understand completely, I–”

“Oh, shut up!” the alien said. It stepped Clark’s body back, raised his head as if issuing a mental command, and disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

Walt leaned weakly on the bar and wiped sweat from his forehead. He poured himself a scotch and gulped it down. The whiskey gave his throat a pleasant burn. He reached for the bottle again and then pushed it away.

“That’s enough, Walter Smart, you idiot!” he admonished himself. “When this tour’s over, there’ll be time enough for drinking. Keep your wits about you! He might come back sooner than–”

The familiar quick lightning of matter transmission and the smell of ozone confirmed the wisdom of his decision. In less than a second, Captain Meriwether Lewis materialized into the cabin.

“Welcome back,” Walt said. “I see you found Charles Hampton, and he fixed his mistake by directing you into the correct body.”

The alien turned Lewis’ head toward the guide. Troubled eyes blinked and then focused on Walt’s face.

“I…I did not find any Charles Hampton, but I found another agent.”

“Well, whoever it was, they did a good job. It’s very accurate this time,” the guide said.

The brown eyes blinked again. “What do you mean, human?”

“Your clothing, it’s obviously appropriate for the Natchez Trace. Lewis liked a fancy uniform as much as the next soldier, but when it came to hitting the trail, he was all business. ”

The alien looked down at Lewis’ body. It was clad in a linsey-woolsey shirt, fringed deerskin pants, jacket, and moccasins. A leather belt held two single-shot pistols. No hat topped the rat’s nest of brown hair.

A frown appeared on Lewis’ face. “This uniform is all torn and scratched. Was Captain Lewis not a tidy human? I understood soldiers to be neat beings.”

“Meriwether Lewis was a very squared-away officer,” Walt assured the alien. “But, you have to remember that during his trip on the Natchez Trace, he separated from his companions to chase some lost horses, and the trail to Grinder’s Stand was not an easy one.”

The alien nodded Lewis’s head. “I see, but…”

“But what?”

The alien wrinkled Lewis’ face into a studied concentration of trying to capture whatever feeling was going through the explorer’s mind. “But, I do not feel…better in this body. I feel…disconnected…fragmented…oddly…’anxious’…is that the human term?”

“Perfectly natural,” Walt reassured the Assocran. “You have to remember that Captain Lewis was very tired after a long day on the trail. You should do what he did while he waited for his companions to arrive—rest. Captain Lewis liked his privacy when he could get it, so he slept in the guest cabin.”

The Assocran glanced out the window. “But it’s cold and terrible out there.”

“The cabin’s not far, only a few steps, and I’ll guide you there myself. I have to build a fire for you anyway.”

“I don’t know,” the alien said hesitantly. “Perhaps I should return and transfer out of this body.”

“It’s only temporary,” Walt said. “It’s just part of the human condition. That’s what you like to experience, isn’t it?”

“Yes, of course, but this is…unusual…and violent. Such thoughts, such horrible thoughts.”

“That means it’s time for you to lie down so it’ll pass more quickly,” Walt said as he threw on a coat. “Come on, we need to get you to your cabin.”

Before the alien could protest, the guide grabbed Lewis’ arm and pulled the alien-occupied body out of the inn.

Ten minutes later, Walt was back in the inn, stamping snow from his boots and stoking the fire so he could warm his hands. When the stiffness was gone from his fingers, he poured the scotch he’d denied himself earlier. He raised the glass to the ceiling in salute and said, “Here’s to a job soon to be well done”. The scotch was gone in a single gulp. Walt sighed at the pleasure of the liquor’s impact and sat down on a pickle barrel to begin some serious drinking. It was the best way to protect his mind against any lashings the alien might project.

A shot and a scream jolted the guide out of a drunken dream of aliens and dead bodies and the futile lashings of a whip against his mind.

Walt lifted his head from the bar tried to get a fix on his dimly fire-lit surroundings. A second shot snapped everything into focus.

“For God’s sake, help me!” Meriwether Lewis cried from outside the cabin. “Help me, please. I’m too strong to finish the deed!”

Walt rose from the pickle barrel and went to the window. Through the frosted pane, he saw Lewis drag his body through a drift toward the well. Half his forehead had been blown away. Black blood and falling snow soaked the great explorer’s hair and jacket.

“Water!” the alien Lewis cried. “Guide, please give me water!”

Pity tore at Walt. He made a move to leave the cabin to help, and then stopped himself.

“Stay put, Walt, you idiot!” he whispered fiercely.

“Stay put and stay out of range! He may be trapped in the insanity of Lewis’ mind, but that mental power of his is still potent.”

A shriek of agony nearly broke his resolve.

“Oh, guide…Christ…Christ….help me!” Lewis cried out. “Why don’t you help me finish the task? Have you forgotten me?”

Walt leaned his head against the window and let the sharp cold of the glass shock his skin. He wanted desperately to close his eyes to blot out the sight of Meriwether Lewis flailing in the bloody snow, but his gaze remained locked on the pathetic figure.

“This is the part of the job I hate,” the guide said softly. “I really do hate it, even if it is necessary.”

A cry of desperation broke from Lewis’ mouth. He fumbled at his belt and drew his remaining pistol. Twice, he tried to cock it and failed. On the third try, he succeeded. He leveled the weapon at Walt, gripping his wrist with his free hand in an effort to keep the aim steady.

“Guide! Guide! I’m going to kill you! I’m going to kill you! I’m going to—oh, God, the pain!”

The barrel swung away from Walt and against the temple of Captain Meriwether Lewis. A flash seared Walt’s eyes as the report echoed through the clearing.

When his vision returned, the guide saw Lewis’ body slumped on the ground, snow already beginning its work of hiding the dead.

Walt stood silent for a moment before raising his right hand and executing a crisp salute. It was fitting tribute to a military man who’d done his country—and all of humanity—another great service.  He’d died again on October 11th.

Walt turned away from the window and found the scotch again. After two quick belts, he dragged a barrel and his backpack in front of the fireplace. He threw more wood on the fire and prodded the logs with a poker until the blaze was bright enough to allow reading. Then, he searched the backpack until he found the job list and a pencil.

Unfolding the paper, he crossed Meriwether Lewis’ name off the list and scanned the remaining names for his next assignment…Hannibal, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Alan Turing, Vincent Van Gogh, Virginia Woolf.

“Suicides all,” Walt muttered as if the fallen were in the cabin with him. “Heroes all. Never thought you’d redeem yourself with your insanity, did you?”

The guide wondered briefly what it was like to be trapped in the madness of a suicidal mind, couldn’t imagine it, and decided simply to be grateful for mental illness. The Assocra didn’t seem to have a concept of insanity, and it was costing them dearly.

Walt read the list again, then sighed, refolded the paper, and stuffed it into a pocket. He rose and spoke again, this time to himself, “Walt, you really don’t have to make a choice right now because you have one last task to finish.”

He donned his jacket and went out the door.

Meriwether Lewis needed to be re-buried, and beyond the snow that encircled Grinder’s Stand, there was warmer, softer ground for a hero to lie in.

THE END