Written by: Joseph D. Stirling (1996)
“On this day of Janor the fifteenth in the month of Septalis; let it stand that this man, one Jacob Clay, is found guilty of crimes against the free city-state of Marzipan. He shall be executed when the clock rings the midnight hour. Take him to his cell. Court is adjourned.”
The judge’s words rang in his ears, even as he lay sweating in the small marble cell. Outside, Jacob could hear the sounds of a celebration not unlike the noises of his first evening in this city…
I was lost in the mountains, he remembered. For weeks after the plane crash I wandered, eating bugs and squirrels and whatever else I could catch. Then one afternoon, as if it sprang from nothingness, I was looking down into a valley at a thriving city. Marble buildings with huge brightly painted spires and golden bells. The people welcomed me with open arms. They even held a great feast, at midnight, of all hours in the day. I ate ravenously even though I had been fed and cleaned on arrival when they saw what poor condition I was in. I was dressed in silks and soft furs and made comfortable. They even gave me a small-furnished apartment in which to reside during my stay with them.
After my first week, a woman whom I had never met approached me, asking for my, (ahem), seed so she and her husband could have a child. It was shocking to say the least! I said no of course, a gentleman doesn’t bed another man’s wife. Now I wish I had agreed; because you see, that’s where all the trouble began…
Jacob’s thoughts were distracted when the large clock struck the eleventh hour with a ring of the massive golden bells. He stood to look through the small window in the cold marble wall, it felt good against his skin. He could see little outside the window. From the echo it sounded like everything was happening on the far side of the building. The strange music of the reclusive city mixed with laughter and song. Jacob returned to the small cot, whipping sweat from his brow.
Where was I, he thought, ah yes. Over the next few days I was given dirty looks by almost everyone. Then suddenly, without a word, everyone was cheerful once again. As if they had never been angered. Daily activities resumed their normal pace and I continued to help in the rice fields. Another week passed and again I was asked a spectacular question, to marry this time! Again a strange woman whom I had never met! This was confusing to me. Again I said no and again the population turned its back on me. Mistake number two. Soon I came to find that the people of Marzipan were incapable of bearing children. All the men had somehow become sterile.
The people figured I would be willing to help them keep their population going, but I wanted love and romance more than just children. And the thought of having children with more than one woman was grossly outside the bounds of morality.
The biggest problem I have had here is the fact that everyone I meet has a kind of opium-joy quality that’s unsettling. Then without word it changes to the exact opposite and they all want me executed at midnight of all hours in the day. Anyway, everyone eventually came around and back to routine it was. Work, work and more work, never time to relax when the sun shone overhead. All night long the people of Marzipan would roam the streets playing music and dancing, I began thinking they never slept. I soon found out that they did indeed sleep. Each man and woman, aside from myself, slept for almost twenty-four hours.
I discovered that everyone in town had a twin, and the two would work on alternating days. A whole city populated with only twins! It was just one more thing that amazed me about this strange city, as well as one more thing that frightened me. Though this fear, I would soon discover, was nothing so great at all. Far worse things happened here. Far, far worse.
I think it was my third month in the city of Marzipan when another man arrived, half-dead and starving as I had been. He was welcomed in just the same manner as I before him. He was asked to marry by a young attractive woman, and accepted. Things went bad for him quite quickly. He would see his wife with another man, or at least a woman he thought was his wife. Though he was unaware that the woman he watched was her twin. Then when his wife returned home from the fields he beat her to death without questioning what he had seen.
He was executed that evening at midnight. Murder was a serious crime for these people as they had no means to replenish their population. The next day there was plenty of meat. I questioned as to where it had come from because I was told the deer had moved for the season. I full well knew the answer but I had to hear it. To be honest, I was expecting a lie.
Again Jacob was interrupted, a small short gong that sounded the half-hour. He shivered at the thought of having only a thirty minutes lease remaining on his life. He shook his head trying to push the thought away. Jacob sat back against the wall and ran his hand through his sweat-dampened hair.
Boy it’s warm for the hour, he thought. Where was I?
I was expecting them to lie to me. And I too would be lying if I said I didn’t eat it, or any of the food that had ever been set in front of me. The people here consider it rude if you refuse to eat what’s laid out at a meal. Also they seem to issue strict punishment.
The next day I was awakened with the news that their Elder, named Rishyakea’Traelibset einos Osampue, was dying. The people said that their holy book mentions a man with pale skin who will save the lives of the oldest men and women in their city. I followed; a growing nausea sat in my belly when I thought that they believed I’d be able to do anything to save a dying man.
Upon entering the Elder’s home, everyone save for the holy men left. I was alone with the elder and a fellow who looked like he could have been an executioner. Ryshyakea looked bad, deathly pale and covered with a shining layer of sweat. The holy man looked at me as if I knew what to do. I told him I didn’t know anything about medicine.
That was when the holy man raised his staff and struck me hard despite my effort to avoid the blow. When I woke sometime later I was in this cell soon to be lead before the court for a crime I didn’t even know how to commit. And that brings me back to where I am now…
Jacob stood and stretched, a small yawn escaping his mouth. He looked out the window again. The clock read eleven forty-eight. Jacob slumped back onto the cot. He was growing extremely nervous.
“Well at least they’ll have plenty of meat,” he mumbled. Somehow it didn’t seem as funny as when he had first thought about it. He looked up towards the sky through the barred window. “Well God, you’ve heard my side of the story…” he started, “What happens now?”
An answer came, though not the answer he would have liked. His cell door was opened and a guard walked in, spear pointed at Jacob. “Up you devil!”
Jacob stood and was ushered from the cell. The guard led him out to the main courtyard. The entire town was gathered in a half-circle around a single wooden post. At first Jacob thought it seemed odd, but the men with rifles changed his mind quickly. He was tied to the post and blindfolded.
His heart raced, not being able to see anything made it all the more terrifying. It was difficult to hear the tick of the clock too, the people cheered and the musicians played on. The tune they played was a happy one, and under different circumstances may have inspired Jacob to dance. Shivering, Jacob waited for the clock tower to ring midnight.
The town grew suddenly quiet. Jacob flinched thinking the guns had fired. The silence was as big an impact as a bullet. It was quiet enough to hear the clock ticking. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
The bell sounded and the air was filled with the sounds of gunfire. Jacob’s last thought was that of the entire town armed and firing upon him. But the sound of gunfire continued, Jacob was confused. Had they missed with the first shots? Then an explosion tore through the night air. It was extremely close, Jacob could feel heat and the dust being kicked up about him.
Just then his hands were freed, the ropes had been cut. He tried to run but was quickly grabbed up by several people. The gunfire and explosions filled every place that sound traveled. It sounded like a war. He still couldn’t see more than the glow of fires through the blindfold as he was led through smoke and rubble.
Suddenly light filled his eyes. He was set down and saw the figures crouch below a line of bushes and fallen trees. Jacob could see part of the city, it was mostly in flames and several buildings were in ruin while others still crumbled. One of the men with him turned and smiled.
“Any enemy of theirs is a friend of ours,” he said in a strange accent, “Who are you? How did you get so pale?”
“Jacob, I’m Jacob” he said, the shock still strong in his voice.
“Call me Tallam.”
The three men slowly rose to a stooped posture and crept further into the trees. His rescuer waved for him to follow. Jacob did for roughly an hour leaving the diminishing sound far behind them.
“We’ll sleep here and be out in the morning. By nightfall tomorrow we’ll be home.”
Jacob collapsed in exhaustion. Not that he had done much, but the fear that gripped him from sitting and waiting to die had taken its toll. He soon fell asleep, but didn’t sleep well.
In his dreams he was tied to the execution pole, and waiting. For half the night he stood tied to a pole with the click of empty rounds firing from a gun at his temple. Each click would send him into a fit of panic and fear. The next shot was real.
He sat up quickly and was thrown down by Tallam. He was handed a gun and looked around. There was a large force of men from Marzipan slinking through the trees and firing at them and other locations in the woods.
“I don’t want to die,” whispered Jacob.
Tallam had heard him and smiled. He seemed as if he was about to speak then dropped backwards starring up into the early morning sky. The hole in his neck pumped blood everywhere. One of the other men with him was setting up a large tube while another was laying out the mortar shells. The first shell was fired, and moments later the explosions were everywhere. Their light of destruction filled the forest, casting shadows in all directions.
It was a war.
“What’s happening? Why are you fighting,” yelled Jacob almost in tears.
The reply, “They will hunt us for food no more!”
The explosion tore into their small encampment. Jacob watched the man’s face contort as half of his body decided to move someplace else without him. Then the force hit Jacob. He was thrown into the air and landed half in a crater. His arm hurt, and the others with him were dead. He looked at his arm and winced at the shard of metal pierced through it. He grabbed the large piece of metal and pulled, above the gunfire he was screaming. He could still see smaller chunks of metal in his chest and legs.
He grabbed a rifle and ammo bag and ran deeper into the forest. A tree splintered into flames nearby, the rush of noise pounding in his ears. Gun shots pierced the trees and ground all around him and still he ran. Luck alone had saved his life.
Jacob crouched below a fallen tree, not daring to move or even look at his surroundings. The longing to be lost in the mountains and dying of hunger filled his mind as if it was all he ever wanted. Then the firing stopped. Jacob imagined he had gone deaf as he listened to the stillness around him.
The sun was beaming overhead. “How long have I been lying here?” he heard himself ask, “Is it over?”
He rolled onto his stomach and peeked over the fallen tree, but it was no longer a tree. He found himself just below the lip of a massive crater, scraps of metal and concrete littered the area. He started, confused. Along the rim of the crater he could see men equally confused, all wearing uniforms. He looked at himself. Muddy, bloody, and in the same uniform as the others.
A man crawled to his side, “Captain, what should we do? Why did they stop firing?”
“I, I don’t know,” Jacob stammered, “Where? What happened?”
“You saved us all, Sir.”
“You told us to get out of the bunker, Sir. The krauts dropped a shell on us after you led us out.”
“I’m a little confused,” said Jacob.
“But, what do we do now, Sir?”
Jacob could see the city of Marzipan so clearly in his mind and the events that happened in that place. He could also see the bunker, and his men, and the war against Germany.
“Get on the horn and call command, tell them we have a new target.”
“Sir, the radio? Malley went in to get it before the explosion. He’s dead, Sir. We don’t have a radio.”
“Cap, there’s a runner coming!”
The runner jumped into the crater and lay against its side, breathing heavily, “The war is over!” he laughed, “The damned krauts just surrendered. We won!”
Jacob starred at the man; his uniform was a little big.
“What? No, I just got word. I was told to run to all squads for verbal confirmation. It’s all over the wire, Sir. We’re going home!”
Jacob pulled his revolver from its holster and looked to his men, they only starred back at him with growing smiles.
“We’re going home Cap. It’s over, it’s all over,” said Richards.
“Who starred in the Wizard of Oz?” Jacob had a strange look in his eye.
“What?” asked the runner.
“The Wizard of Oz! Who played Dorothy in the God damned Wizard of Oz you fucking liar?” he shouted.
“I don’t know, I never saw it. Oh God please don’t kill me, I have a wife. I want to go home, Sir!”
Jacob shot the man in the head, “A damned kraut spy from Marzipan.”
His men starred at him in shock.
“Sir,” began Richards.
“Not now Richards. All right men, the krauts are trying something new. They must be getting desperate for food. Richards, Miller, Bryant, and Smith will take the first watch, the rest of you try and get some sleep,” he said, “Gentlemen, shoot anything that moves towards our position. Don’t let those krauts warp your mind.”
“But, Sir, we want to go home.”
“That’s my job. I can get us back to Caramel if you follow orders, but you have to trust me.”
“Yes, I can get us home.”
“Home is,” began Bryant.
“In Caramel,” finished Jacob, “Shoot as many of those Marzipan krauts as you can. That’s a direct order.”
Jacob lay down and starred into the sky and slowly dozed off. He could hear the clock ring the midnight hour in Marzipan, and the guns went off.
©April1999 Joseph D. Stirling