Short Story by: John Lavernoich
What you’re about to read could be considered a modern-day fable with a moral not unlike those strongly stressed in the fables written by Aesop centuries ago. It could also be a cautionary tale – a possible warning to a generation already facing the uncertainties of our time, and how they could affect its future, as well as that of those yet to be born. But however you view this tale, it begins with words which are as almost old as time itself:
Once upon a time --
Benson Durwood had it all – including a successful business empire which played a major role in both his massive wealth and public visibility, even if his frequent decisions to achieve them brought about controversy and criticism. He also craved the kind of attention which was more likely to bring about the kind of criticism which was more likely to bring about his downfall – that is, if he didn't have the power and influence to silence his most severest critics, including news and financial journalists, with many of their careers ending in ruin. Or, in the case of some, getting buried six feet under – with many claiming that Durwood drove those unfortunate journalists to their deaths. And given the fact that they died violently, there were whispered rumors suggesting that Durwood secretly ordered them – and which were just that. After all, rumors rarely morphed into tangible proof – even in the business and financial worlds which Durwood belonged to.
But Durwood wanted more than the wealth and prestige that had made him a big wheel among wealthy businessmen in the United States. He wanted the highest pinnacle of power – and in America, that meant one thing, and only one: being President of the United States. Durwood had the wealth and resources to launch a presidential campaign – he was also well known to just about everyone, and not just in America. And if some of the country's greatest presidents could get elected to office, based in part on them belonging to wealthy families – including the Roosevelts and the Kennedys – why couldn't Durwood? After all, those with wealth and power are the most successful in their respective fields – or at least, that's what Durwood and others like him thought.
Benson Durwood started his political campaign the summer before the U.S. Presidential election year. His overall goal, if he not only got his party's nomination but also got elected President, was to restore the country's greatness. It was a noble goal – but not easy to attain for many reasons. But then, many goals had always been difficult to achieve – including those of the political kind. In his campaign speeches, Durwood promised that his massive wealth would help restore America's position as the greatest nation in the world – and many who listened to his speeches believed him, while cheering him on madly like a modern-day celebrity.
But Durwood wasn't perfect – and some thought that he wouldn't be the perfect U.S. President. Durwood's flaws started to reveal themselves when he verbally blasted other Presidential candidates in public – and not just those in his own party, including seasoned politicians who weren't in the same income bracket as Durwood and his ilk, and who were no match for him in the televised candidate debates, given Durwood's energetic and magnetic personality. The other candidates seeking the Presidency who were struggling to keep up with Durwood – as well as those who were forced to drop out of the race itself – hated him immensely and weren't afraid to voice their opinions. Ironically enough, for some of those campaigning politicians who wanted Durwood out of the Presidential race – for good – to strongly criticize him was, more less, the kiss of death. In the coming months, those candidates who criticized Durwood strongly were forced out of the Presidential race, but not for financial reasons or lack of popularity among their supporters. They were never seen in public again – period.
Durwood's flaws also became apparent as far as his campaign promises and opinions – all of them controversial – were concerned. Durwood promised that if he was elected U.S. President, he would increase taxes – for the lower and middle class, not the so-called “1%.” He promised stronger laws – to insure that everyone got access to firearms, which greatly pleased those who were pro-gun, but also outraged those who lost their loved ones and friends to gun violence. He promised to get tough on immigrants illegally entering the country – even to the point of using violence. He promised to help restore the country's economy and reduce unemployment – even though he had almost no love for the lower and middle class, the true backbone of America's labor force. He promised to eliminate terrorism around the world – even if it meant using the extreme and unlawful methods which was sure to outrage other politicians, and not just in America, who were above all this. And the promises and tirades went on and on – and on.
Conventional wisdom stated that many Americans – be they Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, or Independents – should have simply ignored and rejected Durwood and his plans for the country, if only because the end result might be a disaster of titanic proportions. But conventional wisdom didn't count on Durwood mesmerizing many Americans with not only his political promises, but also his extreme personality, which could border on arrogance – and insanity. And those who weren't impressed with and swayed by Durwood? They saw him as a demagogue who was already pressing his luck – while coolly waiting for it to run out.
Watching Benson Durwood's rise in the American political hierarchy from afar – and very calmly – was a medium-height, slender, and bespectacled man who no more differed from your typical man in the street. His name was simply Doctor Cipher – a true man of mystery, simply because almost nobody knew that he ever existed, hence his surname. His back-story was a total mystery, including how, when, and where he acquired the title of Doctor. And that was how he truly wanted it.
On a Saturday afternoon in mid-February -- in Charleston, South California -- on the day of the state's Presidential primary, inside a high school gymnasium, thousands were present to hear Durwood give a live political speech – including news reporters, photographers, and radio and TV crews who captured every second of it, as radio and TV audiences and Internet surfers saw and/or heard it live. And like Durwood's previous speeches, the reaction to it was the same: frantic cheering and thunderous applause. It was one of many signs that Durwood would not only get his party's nomination later on during the summer months – but also end up elected into office by early-November. But the U.S. Presidential elections were almost nine months away – and no one could truly predict its outcome, not even Durwood. Then again, Durwood was self-confident – perhaps even over-confident. And, more often than not, that trait could become a liability – and not just in politics.
It was 3p.m., EST, as Benson Durwood – a medium-height and burly Caucasian man in his late-fifties with short blond hair and gray temples – used his hotel room card to unlock the door to his Charleston hotel suite on the hotel building's fifth floor and enter it. (Durwood's paid bodyguards and campaign staff were in four other hotel suites also on the fifth floor.) After locking the door to his hotel suite, Durwood flicked on the light switch located on one of the side walls and started to walk straight in the direction of the suite's living room and its bar already stocked with various wines and spirits, courtesy of the hotel's restaurant staff. But then, Durwood stopped as he saw who was sitting in the plush sofa chair directly opposite from him – namely, Doctor Cipher, in all his medium-height, slender, and bespectacled glory, and wearing a light gray matching dress jacket and pair of pants, a black long-sleeved pull-over turtleneck shirt, a pair of black socks, and a pair of brown dress shoes. How Doctor Cipher got into Durwood's hotel suite was a mystery to the now-furious Durwood.
“Who the hell are you?” said Durwood furiously, “And how did …?”
“My name's unimportant,” said Doctor Cipher calmly and coldly, “What does matter is the fact that I've been an integral part of your life – not only then and now, but also in the future.” Suddenly, Durwood started to laugh hysterically, as if what Doctor Cipher said was a joke; the latter, however, wasn't joking as he watched silently.
“You?” said Durwood hysterically, as he continued to laugh for another few minutes before stopping – and his mood became more serious, as if he viewed Doctor Cipher as an unwelcome visitor who should leave at once. But Doctor Cipher wasn't intimidated by Durwood, his wealth, and his powerful influence – and not without reason.
“As I said a few minutes ago,” said Doctor Cipher, “I've been an integral part of your life – and will be, right until the very end.”
“I've never seen you before,” said Durwood.
“But I've played an important role in your many goals and achievements – much like one's inner voice guiding your destiny. In fact, if it weren't for me – you wouldn't be where you are today.”
“You talk like you're delusional. In fact, you are …!”
“I wouldn't provoke the majority stockholder in your vast business empire.”
“You really are delusional. I'm the …!”
“In fact, I'm the one and only stockholder in your business empire. I own all shares in your businesses – including, as of late yesterday afternoon, yours.”
“You're more than …!”
“As for the other stockholders – they sold all their shares in your companies to me within the past forty-eight hours.”
“Are you some kind of …?”
“The word you should be saying is 'genius.'”
“The word I was about to say is …!”
“I know what you were planning on saying, Benson Durwood – and it'd be no more offensive than what others have called me in the past. Now, you could phone one or more of your businesses' ex-stockholders to see if I'm not lying – that is, if they were in a position to do so.”
“You don't know who you're talking to.”
“I know one thing – starting today, you'll know me simply as your master. But then, I've been your master since birth – which includes giving you the appropriate advice which has made you the man that you are today. In fact, if it weren't for me, you wouldn't be running for the Presidency today.”
“Wait a minute – you're not an American! You're an illegal immigrant – and one who's going to end up behind bars by day's end, and deported by …!”
“You're not the first to challenge me and my vast power, Durwood – but you will be the last. That I promise.”
“Well, you're not the first to threaten me – and after the authorities haul you away, you won't threaten anyone ever again! Count on it!” Within seconds, Durwood, focusing his attention away from Doctor Cipher, headed over to one of the hotel suite's three touch-tone phones which rested atop one of the living room tables, then picked up the receiver and dialed the front desk to have someone from hotel security head upstairs to Durwood's hotel suite and remove his unwanted guest from it immediately. But the phone wasn't working and there wasn't even any noise on the other line, not even a single ring – which was odd, given the fact that all the other phones inside the hotel building were working perfectly, a fact that Durwood wasn't aware of.
“Listen,” said Durwood angrily, as he hung up the phone, “I don't know what your …!” But within seconds, Durwood's attention was again focused on the sofa chair, but with one major difference: Doctor Cipher had completely vanished from Durwood's hotel suite without any tangible proof that he was here.
He's gone, thought Durwood, Like a –! Wait a minute, Durwood – ghosts don't exist! And even if that kook was a ghost, he wouldn't appear in broad daylight – at least, according to the plots of many horror novels and movies I've seen and read over the years! I've got to take a rest at once – I've been working too hard! Soon, Durwood headed into his hotel suite's bedroom and lay down on the single queen-size bed to take a nap for the next hour or two, with the hope that it would help calm his nerves. Even business titans like Durwood knew that they needed to rest a bit to avoid being overwhelmed by the pressures associated with their careers.
By late-afternoon, Brent Kiel – a tall, burly and bald-headed Caucasian man in his early-forties who was one of Benson Durwood's bodyguards – was in the fifth floor hallway of the hotel that he, Durwood, and the other associates were staying at, knocked several times on the door leading into Durwood's hotel suite. Early that evening – a half-hour before the South Carolina primary came to an end and the votes were tallied – Durwood was scheduled to make another political speech in Charleston. Earlier today, Durwood told his bodyguards that he wanted one of them to head over to his hotel suite before 6p.m. tonight to remind him of his itinerary for this evening.
“Mr. Durwood?” asked Kiel, “It's 5:30 right now. If you're ready to …!”
“Go away,” yelled Durwood from inside his hotel suite, “I'm staying in my hotel room tonight!”
“But, Mr. Durwood – you've got to give that speech tonight at …!”
“Leave me alone – or you're fired!”
“Are you feeling all right, Mr. Durwood. After all, you've been working almost non-stop since you started your Presidential campaign last summer.”
“I said, leave me alone -- now!” Soon, Kiel headed over to the hotel rooms where Durwood's campaign staff were staying in, and told them about their boss's change of plans – which gave them cause for concern. Durwood had been an energetic juggernaut since he started his Presidential campaign last summer – with hardly any obstacles standing in his way, including his most severest critics. Could today have been the peak of Durwood's popularity as a Presidential candidate? And based on what Kiel just learned, was his boss primed for a fall – with little or no chance of Durwood regaining both his popularity and standing in the U.S. Presidential race?
What those associated with Durwood's run for the Presidency – as well as his bodyguards couldn't and didn't know was that their boss wasn't in his hotel suite at all. In fact, nobody was inside Durwood's hotel suite – period. The voice that Brent Kiel heard a little while ago sounded like Durwood's – but it wasn't his. There was no sign of a voice recorder or any other audio device inside Durwood's hotel suite which might have contained a recording of what Kiel heard earlier. And as Durwood's bodyguards and campaign staff wondered if the race for the Presidency was starting to take a toll on Durwood in more ways than one – they were unaware of the real truth concerning him. And in a locked hotel suite in which the windows hadn't been touched or tampered with (or even broken) since Durwood and his entourage arrived in Charleston yesterday, thus preventing the possibility of any suicide attempts.
It wouldn't be until early-evening that the hotel manager unlocked the door to Durwood's hotel suite – and he and one of Durwood's campaign staffers entered it and discovered that its occupant was missing, and without any tangible evidence, including proof of a physical struggle or blood stains or chemical residue. There wasn't even a note detailing the demands of Durwood's kidnappers – that is, if he was kidnapped. And he wasn't.
For those associated with Durwood's Presidential campaign – it was more than just an ominous sign. It was also a disaster in the making – and especially if Durwood had suddenly disappeared while at the very height of his campaign's success. And almost nobody – with a strong emphasis on the word “almost” – could truly predict what would happen next, as well as the possibility of any and all consequences which might arise from Durwood's sudden disappearance.
It was early-Monday morning, in New York City, where Benson Durwood had lived for the majority of his life, and where his business empire first took shape over thirty years ago. As much of the world was starting a new day – Durwood's sudden disappearance in Charleston, South Carolina last evening was already making news headlines. And not everyone was upset by this mysterious turn of events. A good number of people throughout the United States – including some of Durwood's political rivals who were right-wingers like him – had actually prayed for something like this to happen, while ignoring the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for.”
One of the New York Police Department's police boats was already patrolling the East River when uniformed police officer Scott Fecto, a medium-height and slender Italian-American man in his mid-thirties with short black hair who was outside standing on the police boat's front deck, saw a lifeless body clad in a pair of dark purple silk pajamas floating on the surface of the East River as seen from his back. The N.Y.P.D. was no stranger to this kind of situation – and only a few minutes after Officer Fecto alerted his other colleagues aboard the police boat to what he saw, the dead body – which weighed less than a hundred pounds – was fished out of the East River and brought aboard the police boat. At the same time, police headquarters was contacted in regards to what the police boat had just discovered – so that when the police boat was heading towards the main docking area, several black-and-white police cruisers and a police wagon – plus their uniformed occupants – were waiting for their colleagues to deliver the deceased, who was already in a body bag. According to the police officers who were aboard the police boat, the deceased was an elderly man – his appearance suggested that he was over one-hundred and twenty years old, according to the police report which would start to be written later on that day.
Soon, the police wagon and the uniformed policemen inside it delivered the body bag containing the deceased old man to the city morgue, where the city's Coroner's Office would perform an autopsy on him to determine the cause of the death. It was initially assumed that the deceased, whose body was floating atop the East River, died of hypothermia, given the river's already-frigid temperature – and after all, it was February, and the winter season wouldn't end until mid-March.
But by day's end, when the Coroner's Office was finished with its autopsy on the deceased man – the truth was impossible to ignore: he didn't die of hypothermia first thing this morning. In fact, the elderly man had been dead, of natural causes, since last evening – before his corpse was dumped into the East River. As for why the deceased ended up in the East River – not even the N.Y.P.D. could answer that question.
Identifying the deceased man would become more problematic, and not just for the N.Y.P.D. In the autopsy report written by the Coroner's Office, it mentioned that the deceased's skin was chalk white at the time of his death, which explained why his body was drained of all blood – while his fingers and thumbs were totally missing the impressions which were necessary to produce fingerprints, which would have identified the deceased. Also, according to the autopsy report, all of the deceased's teeth were missing – which further complicated things, especially since his dental record might have helped identified him.
With no way to identify the deceased man – including contacting his next of kin – his corpse ended up cremated. Still, the mysteries persisted – and would continue to do so, until new evidence came to light which would finally solve them. If they came to light, that is. But this was, after all, New York City – where death was a daily occurrence, and its population couldn't predict when time would finally run out for them -- or for that matter, the where, how, and why of it – especially the why.
One week later: Benson Durwood had been missing for over a week – and those strongly associated with him feared that he might be dead. And if that was the case, were Durwood's business and financial empires also dead? There was little question that Durwood's run for the Presidency had already fallen apart – and you couldn’t continue a political campaign if the candidate in the question ended up missing – or worse. It wasn't the first time a political campaign ended in tragedy – and sadly, it wouldn't be the last.
Inside the Manhattan corporate office building owned by Durwood which served as the nerve center for his business and financial empires, Henry Brock – a tall, slender, and bespectacled Caucasian man in his late-forties with short gray hair and white temples who was one of Durwood Enterprises' vice-presidents – was about to enter his spacious fifty-fourth floor office suite, his right hand holding tightly the handle to his leather attaché case. Mr. Brock and everyone else associated with Durwood Enterprises learned about their boss's disappearance the morning after it happened – and many were concerned about the future of Durwood's empires, and how it might affect their own futures.
The moment Mr. Brock entered his office suite, he noticed that his swivel office chair which was behind his large solid oak office desk was turned around, as its front directly faced one of the office windows which offered a panoramic view of the Manhattan skyline. Mr. Brock then knew that something was wrong – the back of his office chair was supposed to directly face the office windows, while its front directly faced the office desk; that was the way that Brock set it up during the almost-twenty years he came to work at Durwood Enterprises, when the business degrees he received at Princeton University helped insure his rise in both the business and financial worlds. Furthermore, Mr. Brock knew that the first person who entered his office suite at the start of each work day was himself and no one else – after all, only Mr. Brock had the key needed to unlock the door leading into his office suite. Witnessing this anomaly inside his office suite, Mr. Brock silently wondered if he was working too hard – and whether it was contributing to what he was now seeing.
As Mr. Brock slowly walked towards his office desk, his swivel chair turned around to directly face him, as he soon learned who was sitting in it: namely, Doctor Cipher, who acted calm and self-confident. Mr. Brock, like Durwood, was totally unfamiliar with the person now sitting in his swivel chair and in front of his office desk – and he was somehow disturbed by it, and with good reason.
“Err,” asked Mr. Brock, “What are you …?”
“I'm your new boss,” said Doctor Cipher calmly, “In fact -- I've been your boss for the better part of a week.”
“Funny – everyone working at Durwood Enterprises didn't receive a memo stating that. And if what you say is true – where does that leave Benson Durwood?”
“Remember what happened to your boss in South Carolina over a week ago?”
“I do – as well as everyone else in the country. But what I want to know is …!”
“And remember what happened on the East River early last week – when the N.Y.P.D. found that dead man floating atop the river surface?”
“Okay – what are you getting at?”
“The dead man was in reality Benson Durwood.” There was a minute of pure silence inside Mr. Brock's office suite in the wake of Doctor Cipher's comments – which was more than enough to cause confusion for anyone hearing them. “You've got to be joking,” said Mr. Brock, his voice filled with disbelief, “That dead man was over a hundred-and-twenty years old – and far older than even Durwood himself.”
“You don't believe me. Well, believe this – without me, Durwood would have never risen to the top of the business and financial worlds. I was, in many respects, Durwood's conscience – the kind he heard, but didn't see. I played a major role in nearly all of Durwood's decisions – and not just from business and financial perspectives. Many were successful. As for those which weren't – well, Durwood should have listened to me a little bit more.”
“From the way you're talking, you must be …!”
“Delusional? As I strongly stressed seconds earlier, I guided Durwood to where he is – or was, until his disappearance last week. And at the same time, my power and influence as a result of working behind the scenes was growing – to the point where I controlled, more or less, one of the most powerful men in the world.”
“Are you sure you know what you're talking about?”
“That question alone is proof of your ignorance and narrow worldview. I've controlled those who were far more obedient and unquestioning than those who would have caused me serious trouble, like Durwood. I thought that my idea to convince Durwood to run for U.S. President was a sound one – if only because I'd be in a better position to control him should he ever get elected.”
“Man, you must be nuts! I'm going to call security at once and …!” Within seconds, Mr. Brock removed his touch-screen cell phone from his sports jacket's front left pocket – but the moment he attempted to turn it on, he felt a mild electrical shock which came from the device itself, as his left hand let go of it, and the cell phone itself fell down on the carpeted floor.
“I wouldn't pick up your cell phone,” said Doctor Cipher in a sinister tone, “Should you try to do so, you'll be leaving your office for the last time – this time, in a body bag.”
“I-I-I don't understand,” said Mr. Brock nervously.
“Then let me further enlighten you, Mr. Brock – after all, I do need an eyewitness to tell humanity of its own eventual future, which is unavoidable – and any attempts at resistance will be not only useless, but also fatal. I had hoped that by controlling your ex-boss's destiny – as I had with countless others throughout history – I'd be in a position to alter humanity's future to the point of being its overall master, with no one to stop me. And yet, Durwood got out of control over a month ago – to the point of him becoming less of a pawn and more of a serious threat to me. And it wasn’t the first time that I was threatened by …!”
“You're no better than Durwood or any of your other victims whom you've manipulated throughout history,” said a female voice from out of nowhere, and full of defiance, “But then, you're also a victim of manipulation – only you've never been aware of it!”
This can't be happening, thought Mr. Brock, This just can't be happening! Mr. Brock was a successful business executive who had, for most of his career as a corporate executive, experienced the many peaks and valleys which affected both the business world and Wall Street. But based on what Mr. Brock was now witnessing, there were many things that his intelligence and experienced couldn't explain and comprehend – and which might drive an otherwise normally sane person towards the brink of permanent insanity.
Doctor Cipher was also surprised to hear the female voice. But unlike Mr. Brock, Doctor Cipher was quickly angered, as if both he and his plans were in danger of falling apart – which further fueled his determination and ruthlessness. “Who said that?” said Doctor Cipher angrily, as he arose from the swivel chair while focusing his attention on Mr. Brock, “Show yourself at once! Otherwise, I'll destroy this very building and everyone inside it! And believe me -- I do have the power to accomplish it!”
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a medium-height, beautiful, and sexy Caucasian woman in her mid-twenties with long black hair materialized from out of nowhere, and clad in a white jumpsuit and a pair of white boots. Needless to say, Doctor Cipher wasn't impressed by the young woman – whose name was Tania Del Roy – as a potential adversary. As for Mr. Brock, he kept silent – if nothing else, to save not only his own life, but also his own sanity.
“A mere woman challenging my vast power,” said Doctor Cipher with utter contempt, “How pitiful.”
“I don't see myself as pitiful,” said Tania defiantly, “On the other hand, you're not exactly Eagle Scout material.”
“Are you mocking me?”
“For someone claiming to be a mutant – you're not very smart.”
“But I am a mutant – smarter, wiser, and more powerful than so-called Homo sapiens who have outlasted their stay on Earth, including those whose minds I've controlled throughout history.”
“With one of them being Benson Durwood, whose death you caused almost two weeks ago.” Suddenly, Mr. Brock and Tania Del Roy witnessed a bright green aura surrounding Doctor Cipher, as if there was more to him than met the eye – which was true, as he elevated himself until he was several feet off the carpeted floor. Then, Mr. Brock and Tania watched as Doctor Cipher's body started to quickly change – within several minutes, the metamorphosis was complete, as Doctor Cipher revealed himself for what he really was: namely, a small alien-like being with green scaly skin, glowing red eyes, and an over-sized head which housed his equally-over-sized brain, suggesting that he was far more intelligent than many of the world's smartest people. Mr. Brock's reaction to Doctor Cipher changing into his true form was one of silent fear – what he was seeing was for real and definitely not the product of show business special effects. Tania's reaction was also silent – but it was one of grim contempt, as if she witnessed this kind of evil before.
“You're wondering how Durwood met his end,” said the alien who was named Colicos, his voice now deep and booming, “In a few minutes, you'll learn why – though it'll hardly be to your liking, and especially in your last moments on this mud-ball of a planet!” Soon, Colicos' red eyes started to glow brightly – and soon, powerful rays from the alien's eyes were fired directly at Mr. Brock and Tania. But within seconds, an invisible force field appeared from out of nowhere, as it protected Colicos' would-be targets – then, like bullets from a fired gun, the rays bounced off the invisible force field and directly hit the alien himself!
Mr. Brock and Tania then watched as the rays which hit Colicos greatly aged him in mere seconds – until he ended up an unrecognizable shell of his former self who was nearing death. “Devil-lord,” said Colicos weakly and hoarsely, “Help … me … help …!” As Colicos fell and landed hard on the floor – and his remains quickly turned to dust – he knew that he was already beyond saving. But then, it was a fitting end for Colicos, who had manipulated and altered the lives of his countless pawns without showing any and all guilt for what he did.
At the same time Colicos' death occurred, the invisible force field which had protected both Henry Brock and Tania Del Roy from suffering the same fate as Benson Durwood and countless others who posed a serious threat to their alien manipulator disappeared. Soon, Tania directly focused her attention on Mr. Brock, who silently worried about what might happen to him next, as she slowly walked towards him. Suddenly, Mr. Brock started to feel somewhat light-headed – within seconds, he fainted into unconsciousness and fell quickly into Tania's waiting arms. For the next minute, there was nothing but total and pure silence – but thankfully, not the kind which brought about sudden death.
A half-hour had passed, as an unconscious Henry Brock was sitting in his swivel chair in front of his office desk, and his secretary/receptionist, Nora Salinger, a medium-height, beautiful and slender African-American woman in her early-thirties with long and curly black hair, was in Mr. Brock's office suite trying to softly and gently wake him up – which she succeeded in doing after forty-five seconds, as Mr. Brock slowly regained consciousness. Once he did, Mr. Brock was surprised to find himself sitting at his office desk – without any explanation for how he ended up there.
“Mr. Brock,” said Miss Salinger with great concern, “Are you all right?”
“Y-Y-Yes,” said Mr. Brock, as he slowly regained his senses while also noticing Miss Salinger already standing to his left, “I think. Miss Salinger – did you notice anything strange inside my office a little while ago?”
“No, I didn't – but then, this is the first time I've been in your office this morning, Mr. Brock. And the last time I saw you was one hour ago when you arrived at work.”
“You're not going to believe this – but I had a weird dream in which I encountered someone claiming to be the new head of Durwood Enterprises who ended up revealing himself as an alien creature who claimed to be responsible for Mr. Durwood's disappearance and death before he attempted to kill me. I guess that's what happens when a business executive like myself works and worries too much – and especially after your boss's disappeared for a whole week.”
“I know – and especially since nobody knows how and when he vanished – or why. Do you really think that …?”
“I don't know if Mr. Durwood is still alive, Miss Salinger. And I doubt if anyone else – including his political opponents – can answer that question. One thing's for certain – without Mr. Durwood, his business empire will be facing a rocky future.”
“Speaking of which, Mr. Brock – there'll be a meeting of Durwood Enterprises' top executives at two this afternoon, with the company's future at the top of its agenda.”
“Well, we'd better get ready for that meeting, Miss Salinger – and pray that Mr. Durwood is both alive and in one piece.” But both Henry Brock and Nora Salinger – and the others who worked for Benson Durwood, including his Presidential campaign staff – were unaware that their boss was already dead. It would be a few months before almost all of the world finally realized and accepted the fact that Durwood was indeed dead – while never learning of the circumstances that led to that unexpected tragedy. Whether or not Durwood would have actually ended up in the White House had he not died became a moot point. And it would remain so – long after the campaigns, conventions, and elections faded into history.
Elsewhere: Outside, Tania Del Roy – now clad in a black trench coat, a red long-sleeved turtleneck shirt, a black wool sweater, a pair of dark blue jeans, a pair of dark brown socks, and a pair of brown leather boots – stood atop the outer roof of a skyscraper building in Manhattan, as she directly faced the skyscraper building which housed the corporate headquarters of Durwood Enterprises. The weather outside was bitterly cold and windy – but it didn't affect Tania and where she was standing, as if guided by a mystical force which could baffle even a modern-day scientist.
“The outside world – including Henry Brock – will never learn the full truth behind Benson Durwood's disappearance and death,” said a female voice from out of nowhere, and which only Tania could hear, “Or who was really controlling him.”
“In some ways,” said Tania, “I'm sorry I had to use my powers to make Brock think that his encounter with both me and Colicos was nothing more than a dream.”
“And yet, you had to do it. Just like you had to use your powers to deflect Colicos' deadly rays – the same rays which helped bring about Durwood's death almost two weeks ago, and which would have killed more than just you and Brock.”
“Well, it's a good thing I got rid of Colicos' remains after causing Brock to black out – and before I made a hasty retreat. But something tells me that there are beings other than Colicos still loose in the known universe and beyond – all sharing the same sinister goal.”
“And many of them are already serving their master – and our greatest enemy – who's almost certain to strike again and soon.”
“Uh-huh. And as usual, it'll be up to us to halt at least most of his plans – chaotic and otherwise – for total conquest of not only the Earth, but also our universe and those beyond that. But you know – I almost feel sorry for Durwood, to the point that he was an unsuspecting pawn of Colicos and his master.”
“And yet, Benson Durwood wasn't perfect – either as a business and financial titan or a human being. As for whether he would actually ended up in the White House – with or without Colicos controlling him – nobody can truly say.”
“I know one thing – we haven't seen or heard the last of other-worldly manipulators like Colicos. And the world hasn't seen the last of political glory-seekers like Durwood. I doubt that even his death will discourage them from entering the public spotlight anytime soon – though they might be headed for a fall someday, whether or not they're tempted by Colicos and his ilk.”
“Or perhaps they'll finally listen to their consciences from within – and realize that intelligence, decency, and wisdom are important tools in bringing forth a better and saner world for future generations to live in.”
“Let's just hope that we can continue to help stop leeches like Colicos from making things even worse – and the world already has enough problems to contend with.” Within seconds, Tania started to slowly disappear like a phantom – even though it was daytime; where she went, only she knew.
Benson Durwood was dead – and yet, there would be others who would continue where he left off; only the future would determine if their actions would change the world for the better – or help plunge it into a permanent abyss, a possible fear which existed for countless centuries, and still does to this very day.
As for when and where Colicos' ilk would strike again – as well as who they would corrupt to suit their dark purposes – no one can truly say. The danger that Colicos' ilk represented still existed – and would remain so – until humanity finally had the courage and wisdom to banish their inner demons forever and step out of the darkness and into the light to embrace what truly mattered, which was far more important and powerful than even empires and their fleeting glory and trappings.
© Copyright 2017 John Lavernoich. All rights reserved.