Many thanks to the good folks at Write It Up! Burbank for inspiring this mad little tale of life after the end times.
Dug Up Truths, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 600
It had been twenty years since the End of Days. Twenty years since the first missiles came screaming overhead in Lima, Bueno Aires, and a dozen other capital cities across the world. The worst had been the dragons, of course, who’d come out of the swirling vortex that had mysteriously appeared in the middle of the Atlantic. After that, Earth never was the same.
Pedro walked alone through the ruins of the Chillón River Valley, picking his way over bombed-out houses and backyards. He was wrapped from head to toe in decaying rags and leathers—-a brutal fashion for the summer, but he was more concerned about the fallout radiation than a little heat under the collar.
He wasn’t trained for this. Before the missiles, Pedro has been a short-order cook, famed for his empanadas de Miraflores among other dishes. But the old goblin lady in the north had uttered the prophecy, so in keeping with all fairy tale conventions, Pedro had to obey.
Making his way uphill, he came to stop beside a mound of stones. By luck, none of the nomads or orc marauders had disturbed them. Pedro fell to his knees and began to dig.
When he saw something gleaming at the bottom, he dug faster.
Huffing and baking under his survival gear, Pedro unearthed the artifact with a cry that echoed across the valley. He paused to look over his hard-won treasure.
A heavy bejeweled scepter, almost as tall as he was. At its peak sat a massive ruby encased in silver, framed like a human eye. This, then, was the Scepter of Truth, just as the goblin’s prophecy had foretold.
At last he’d found it. Now all Pedro had to do was figure out how to use the bloody thing.
Dropping to his poor, aching knees, Pedro held up the scepter in one hand. He fished around his knapsack for a bundle of papers. Time and exposure to the elements had turned them yellow and ragged. Even in the early morning light, Pedro had to squint to read the faded text.
“Lieutenant Commander Alfonso Marquez…” he read slowly. “Assigned to the ISS Space Station on… the third of April, 2053…”
He cast his eyes toward Heaven. Pedro had long ago stopped believing in God after seeing the horror of what dragons and trolls could do to entire neighborhoods, but he felt something like faith stirring in his chest when he spoke again.
“Please,” he said, staring at the scepter, “bring my brother home.”
The Scepter of Truth said nothing, but the air behind him had an answer.
“Hermano…?” The man’s voice was weak and filtered through a helmet radio. Pedro spun around and looked in awe at the astronaut in the orange space suit who was now materializing in a swirl of light and smoke. For just one moment, it looked exactly like the terrible vortex that had appeared over the ocean.
Pedro didn’t hold back the tears. Or his joy when he ran forward to embrace the brother he hadn’t seen in over twenty years. The man who’d been spared a nightmare on Earth for hellish solitude in space.
As he fumbled with the helmet’s clasps, Pedro couldn’t believe how young Alfonso looked. But here he was, just as the prophecy had promised.
“You know…” Alfonso said through his own tears, “I could use some breakfast.”
Pedro laughed and clapped his brother on the arm. “For you, mijo, anything. But first, we gotta find somewhere safe and free of dragons.”
Alfonso stared. “Dragons?”
“Ay, little brother, you’ve a lot to learn about the old neighborhood…”
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