Heart of Stone

Sun-baked earth stretches into some far off mountains. In the distance, splitting the horizon where the desert meets a cloudless blue sky, sits a stone tower. A few human bones litter the ground on the way to the tower. The bones disintegrate with a gentle hot breeze. The gaping maw of a skull widens as the wind eats at it, until the skull and desert sand are one.

At the base of the tower one gets a better grasp of its scale. As the sun sets, the tower casts a shadow farther than the eye can see. The tower’s base is wide, almost impossibly so as the tower appears to have no definitive edge.

A cave-like entrance, just large enough for a person to pass through, has fractured the tower. Cold wind escapes the stone scar, disturbing a set of bones at the entrance.

Inside is a frozen landscape. This isn’t a tower, it’s a giant wall surrounding this place. Barbed wire and trenches dot the area. Frozen bodies in various poses lay strewn across the frozen tundra.

A gunshot in the distance. The sound thunders and echos off the ice-scraped black walls. The sound lingers in the air, dissipating slowly.

At the center is a dark stone castle. A steep, bottomless, canyon encircles it; a moat.

“What do we got?” asks a man in a black ski mask. He peeks over the stone wall of the tower. He examines the ice barren ground.

“Another hopeful,” says a man at the far end. He’s hunched near a stone ledge with a rifle in hand. He squints and steadies his gaze. “I think I got ’em.” He adjusts his blue ski mask and sets down his rifle.

A man in a white coat and hoodie darts out from behind a mound. He fires two shots before retreating for cover. The shots hit the wall behind Black-ski-mask.

“That son of a bitch!” Black-ski-mask dives behind a wall. “I thought you said you got him?”

“I’m on it, I’m on it!” Blue-ski-mask readies his rifle, cocking it and scoping the mound. He fires three shots. “Come on, come on,” he whispers. “Come out.”

The White-coat man below jumps out, firing more shots and making his way down another mound.

“Did he just get closer?” asks Black-ski-mask.

“That drawbridge needs to be raised,” Blue-ski-mask says.

Black-ski-mask chuckles. “That bridge actually can’t be pulled up. Besides, you know He’d never want that.”

“Right,” Blue-ski-mask says dryly.

White-coat man pulls back his hoodie, dusting off his black hair of debris.

“This one’s cute,” says Blue-ski mask. “He’s got dark hair. Nice stubble. Hmm, and a good jaw line–”

“Take the damn shot!”

“Fuck it.” Blue-ski-mask fires, hitting White-coat squarely in the chest, knocking him back. “I got ’em!” Blue-ski-mask stands up, raising a fist with his chest out.

Black-ski-mask gives a slow clap. “He was kinda cute, wasn’t he?”

A single shot rings out. Blue-ski-mask drops his rifle. A glazed look in his eyes. Blood dripping down the side of his head. His body falls limp.

“Shit!” Black-ski-mask drops behind the wall once again. He pulls out his sidearm and peers over the wall, watching White-coat rub his bloodless chest. “That asshole has a vest! When the fuck did they start coming in with vests?”

Men from the other surrounding towers now join the fight, firing at White-coat. White-coat slides into a trench for cover, narrowly missing the onslaught. Bursts of snow and dirt shoot from the ground as its peppered by bullets. A single black object escapes the trench, landing at a nearby tower.

“Grenade!” a call from the tower.

An explosion rips part of the tower, sending chunks of stone in the air.

“What kind of grenade was that?” Black-ski-mask’s eyes widen. He takes two deep breaths and returns fire. However, White-coat is quick, running along a mound for cover and taking out someone in another tower. “He’s doing this with a pistol? How is he doing this? Who is he?”

“Let him,” says a man behind Black-ski-mask. It’s a man in a black trench coat and mask. “Let him come.”

Black-ski-mask cocks his head back. “But, sir–”

“Stand down,” says Trench-coat. “I got this.” He unholsters the sniper rifle from his back.

Everyone understands and they all fall back. With rifles at their sides, they stand firmly poised. A calm overtakes the area. Trench-coat readies his rifle, loading it and adjusting the scope. He watches White-coat run from mound-to-mound, getting closer to the bridge with each sprint.

Trench-coat points his barrel and rests his cheek against the cold gun. Closing an eye, he focuses on the cross-hairs as they scan the area below. Trench-coat’s breath is steady and slow, floating visibly in the frigid air. He holds his breath momentarily. The air is still. He exhales and whispers, “I’m sorry.”

He fires.


White-coat falls as the bullet casing hits the floor.

Trench-coat gets up and holsters his rifle behind his back. He looks over at Blue-ski-mask’s body, now in a small pool of blood. “Someone take care of that.” He turns to the center tower of the castle. “I need to go check Him.”

At the end of a long hallway, Trench-coat stands before a door. A white light escapes the edges of the door as the knob is turned. Trench-coat closes his eyes and quickly steps through.

A large verdant garden of trees and flowers lies before him. He walks toward a stream, his dark outfit contrasts against the vibrant colors of the area.

“Is that you?” asks a child. It’s a young boy. “Where did you go?” The brown-eyed child in suspenders reaches out to Trench-coat. The boy’s hand is dwarfed by Trench-coat’s.

“I had to take care of something,” says Trench-coat.

“Was there someone out there for me?” the boy asks.

“No. Just someone passing by.” Trench-coat let’s go of the boy’s hand and kneels down at the stream. He cups water in one hand while he lifts his mask with the other.

His face.

It’s me.