It was the Year 2576. After the Great War of the 21st century, which had decimated ninety-per cent of the world’s population, all that remained lived in tiny clustered villages. These communities dotted the landscape like lonely eggs of a long-abandoned beehive.
Tim and Eric were a pair of fourteen-year-old boys who lived in one of these villages. The elders of their community called their society and surrounding lands The Pod. On the edge of the village, along a remote cliffside, lay The Forbidden Cave. The Forbidden Cave was held in folklore, whose name alone gave adults the shudders and kept the youth awake at night with mystical nightmares.
“Never enter the Forbidden Cave!” Charles Payne would always preach. Payne was the Head Chieftain of their village. He had a disorganized personality with a passion for striking fear into the young. But the times were changing in the Pod, and seeds of rebellion were felt in the air.
Tim and Eric were best friends. Their fighting spirit and bold personalities differentiated them from their peers. Eric was the bolder of the two and taller. His short black hair and broad shoulders turned on every girl in his class. Tim had flaming red hair and was shorter but wiser than Eric. He had a drinking problem and many members of the community found him a bit odd. He seldom smiled, unless around friends. Mischievous, dancing eyes made everyone around him suspicious that he was up to no good.
The two were a formidable force to be reckoned with. The Pod’s law stated that one could apply to be a junior chieftain at age sixteen. Tim and Eric were among the frontrunners for the next generation of leadership. To prove their worth, the two planned a trip out to the Forbidden Cave.
The Cave, situated along a set of cliffs dotting the coastline, was a menace of its own. To be reached, a traveller had to scale across remote and jagged rocks. One slip meant almost certain death.
It was a starlit October night. Autumn’s gales were ripping through the boys’ clothes.
“God damn if we cower out of this one,” Eric told Tim as they stood on the edge of the formidable territory. Tim lit up a hand-rolled cigarette, a practice that was forbidden by The Pod’s conservative leadership.
The two ventured out and began scaling the cliffside walls. Waves could be heard crashing on the rocks fifty feet below. Tim almost slipped and was caught by Eric. Tim had been drinking homemade wine all day and was drunk with courage.
The wind picked up in intensity to nearly forty knots. A stroke of rogue lightning lit up the ocean’s sky to the west. “Bet you finally get a girlfriend after this adventure,” Eric told Tim sarcastically.
“I’m saving myself for the next princess,” Tim replied with a smirk.
The two had travelled for about half an hour when they decided to take a rest. Carved into a nearby rock was a sloppily drawn heart. Inside the heart read two names with a poem scrawled underneath.
“I wonder what that means?” Tim asked his friend.
“I think it is a message of hope,” Eric replied. “Come on let us get going. We are getting close to our destination.”
The time was now 2 am and steady rain began to fall. The two came upon the most difficult stage of the journey yet. The footpath narrowed to a mere eight inches or so from the cliff. A tattered rope hung from the wall to their right. Old, rusty nails held the rope in place.
Eric did not like heights. They were one of his only fears.
“Screw this,” Eric said.
“Just don’t look down and follow my lead,” Tim replied with confidence.
Tim led the way and Eric followed. The rope felt cold and slippery through their bare hands. Tim howled out to the sky. Near-death experiences and impulsivity reminded him that he was still alive.
“Will you shut the hell up,” Eric stammered.
When the two made it past the obstacle course the rain seemed to lighten up. A weird feeling befell them and played with their emotions. It was as if they had entered a different reality, one with no law of physics. The night sky looked brighter and objects appeared to simultaneously grow large and small. A light could be seen flickering faintly in the distance.
“We must be there!” Eric cried out.
The ocean to their left became still and the rain around them stopped. A full moon could be seen out to the west hanging over the ocean’s horizon. Tim had the sensation of being spun about and drawn from his body. Eric had another bizarre feeling as disillusionment fell upon him. He sensed danger in the air, a corruption of the natural surroundings that he could not explain.
The two walked ahead and an opening appeared between two large, towering boulders. Vertical beads hung down covering the entrance to what lay beyond. Tim walked ahead and pushed the dangling beads apart. He could only make out a bright fire.
“Is anyone there?” he called into the darkness.
A shadowy figure stood up and walked towards them. The boys stood in fright. A dominant figure, human-like in form came into view.
“Come in, if you dare,” the creature announced.
Eric stepped forward, determined to be fearless. “Who are you?” the boy shouted. His young but strong voice boomed into the cliffside.
“Welcome to my lair,” the creature announced and stepped forward. The boys could see that the creature was a large-set man. The man had a kindly smile and curly brown hair. A large, bushy beard flowed freely from his jaw. “My name is Scott, Scott Lansing.” The stranger stuck out his chiselled right hand.
Eric and Tim took turns shaking Scott’s hand and introduced themselves. Scott led them down a small flight of steps and into his dwelling.
“Well, this is home,” Scott told them. “It is not much, but I am stuck here for now.”
The cave was large and circular with a six-foot-high ceiling. Scott had to crouch as he walked. Eric noticed a thin twig burning on a shelf by the corner of the room. Smoke rose from the stick.
“Sit down and have a seat,” Scott announced and motioned to a pair of rocking chairs by the fire. Eric and Tim sat down. The chairs were hard and hurt their backs.
“What are you doing out here alone?” Tim asked.
“It is a long story, but I will make it as short as possible,” Scott replied. He took a deep breath and began his tale.
“You see, the land we are on now was once part of a territory called America. America was a magnificent super-power back in her day. For one-hundred years, she was captain of the world. Back in the year 2045, things began to change. America was the last beacon of freedom, while the rest of the world was in flames. Our Motherland was a holdout for those seeking a peaceful, safe existence. We Americans enjoyed privileges that were not seen anywhere else.”
Scott sighed deeply and continued. “An alliance of enemy powers formed under the codename M.A.R.S.”
“Mars?” Tim asked. “Like the planet?”
“No, not like the planet, although God knows where their leadership came from. M.A.R.S was an underground movement. Under the banner of “Freedom for All”, the group set about the destruction of America. We eventually staged a global campaign to destroy the rebel group, but they were strong and held more influence than we initially thought.”
Scott looked down to his feet and shook his head. After thirty seconds of silence, Scott continued his tale. “By now it was July 2045 and roots of rebellion hit the American streets. M.A.R.S took advantage of the chaos and began to bomb American cities. With most of our troops deployed overseas, our homeland was vulnerable to attack. By December, our capital city was bombarded and taken over.”
“What happened next?” Eric asked, eyes wide with fascination.
“Our army had to regroup under new leadership. I was second in command. We had to become smarter and think like M.A.R.S to beat them, if you know what I mean.”
“And did you win?” Tim asked.
Scott dropped his eyes and replied. “The commander in charge of the United States military was a man named General Sexton. He decided that he would rather see the entire country destroyed, then have the Rebels rule over the land. Behind our backs, he dropped a hydrogen bomb onto our Heartland. The H-bomb was the most powerful weapon in the world and the damage was catastrophic.”
The cave turned quiet and the fire in the middle slowly started to dwindle. Outside sunlight began to pierce the cave’s entrance. “So that is my story,” Scott said and sat back in his chair.
“How did you end up in this year?” Eric asked.
“This cave is a portal,” Scott answered slowly. “We are sitting on what used to be called Southern California. The water outside was named the Pacific Ocean. These cliffs were considered sacred and the earliest Americans, many thousands of years ago, would come here and worship. In my day, this cave was thought to be haunted, a portal to hell.”
A cold breeze passed through the air and the boys shuddered.
“I survived the hydrogen bomb and came to this spot,” Scott continued. “I was battered and on the brink of death. Eventually, I passed out and thought I had died. I was transported into a black abyss for what felt like was an eternity. But one day, the hell was suddenly over. I was awakened by a lost man named Brian, who said he was from a pod.”
“The Pod! That is where we are from!” Eric exclaimed.
Scott nodded his head. “The man stayed with me for a week before departing. Right before he left, we held hands and were miraculously transported back in time. We saw that there were survivors from the hydrogen blast and together worked to help rebuild America.”
Scott looked intently into the boy’s eyes. “I could badly use your help,” Scott pleaded. “The past can be changed for the better, but it is a slow and gruelling process. Will you come back in time with me?”
There was something unsettling about this stranger and Tim was suddenly on guard. A beam in the burly man’s eyes made Tim feel unnerved.
“We should be going back,” Tim suddenly told Eric.
“No way!” Eric answered, “You go back if you want, I am going to help Scott out.”
“I’ll stick by you no matter what,” Tim replied to his friend. He would not leave Eric to travel alone with this strange man.
“Ok, then it is settled,” Scott said with a grim look. “I have to put out the fire, the room needs to be completely dark for this ritual to work. I have to warn you that we will be going into a warzone, and there is no guarantee that either of you will make it back alive.”
The two nodded their heads. “Well then it is done,” Scott said and put out the fire. The room became dark, save for the faint light of dawn penetrating the Cave’s entrance. Eric felt excited, ready for the trip of a lifetime, but Tim still felt uneasy.
“Here we go!” Scott yelled, his voice echoing off the rock walls, and the three joined hands.
Three!- Total nr. of readings: 301 Copyright © The author  All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.
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