Embraced by the Light

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Mark’s heart somersaults. He’s close now, only fourth in line. Soon he’ll be moving on.

Every now and then he steals nervous glances at the underground cavern surrounding the terminal. Inscribed on the rough stone walls are symbols whose meanings modern scholars still haven’t deciphered. Above, incandescent bulbs provide a dim illumination.

There’s a bright indigo burst as the portal gate slides open. He squints, watches with a sinking feeling while the person at the head of the line steps forward. For a moment the glow intensifies. Then the gate closes and once more the only source of light is the bulbs overhead.

Nobody knows where the portals come from. They predate history. Perhaps they were built by a race more powerful than their own. Perhaps they’re only a natural phenomenon. All people know for sure is that they form bridges to other worlds. They know this because off-world pilgrims come through every day in search of a new life.

But the portals only travel in one direction, and the trip is always one-way. It’s a blind jump. A chance to start over.


A middle aged woman with salt-and-pepper hair steps forward, a stony, unreadable look on her face. The light swallows her whole.

Mark used to play it safe. There were too many uncertainties, he reasoned, too many unseen variables to warrant excessive risk. So all his life he took the road most traveled. He graduated from college with a degree in accounting, because there was always demand for accountants. He got a comfortable desk job. He married. Bought a house. Had two children. Planned for retirement. He did everything by the book.

Then his wife and two children burned to death in an arson fire.


A young man, hardly older than eighteen, steps forward. Light. Flash. Gone.

Mark planned for all the contingencies, and the universe compensated him with an absurd and senseless act of evil. He quit his job. Sold his house. Wandered the world in search of answers until his savings ran out.

Now, all that’s left for him is to press forward into the unknown.


Another man, this time well into his seventies. Another burst of indigo light and the man is gone.

Now Mark is at the head of the line. This is it, he thinks. He’s spent the last of his money on his ticket. Will life on the other side be better, or worse?


The portal gate slides open. Mark steps forward and is embraced by the light.

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London Bridge Is Falling Down

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He boarded the train from Brighton Station at two forty-five, clutching a black leather briefcase. The car was crowded, but he found a seat at the back and made his way toward it. He sat down next to an elderly woman, who glanced up and smiled. He returned the gesture, and idly wondered if she would be alive tomorrow.

An artificial female voice came over the loudspeaker, notifying the passengers that they were on the Southern service to London Bridge and that their next stop would be Preston Park. It would take an hour for him to reach the last station. He settled into his seat, gazing outside as the train pulled away from the platform with a dull electric hum.

He could remember when the trains had run on steam and not electricity. They’d been much louder then, always hissing like angry spirits just before leaving the station. But that was a long time ago.

He heard the voice of a child and turned. It was a boy of six or seven, telling his mother what he’d done in school. The woman beside him smiled listlessly in most of the right places. He wondered if she would have appreciated the moment more if she knew it might be their last.

Humans were curious creatures. They always took what they had for granted, until it was snatched away. They were like spoiled children, capricious and short sighted, and every so often they needed a catastrophe to wake them up and remind them of how fragile “ordinary” life truly was.

He and his companions had been working in the shadows since the Earth was a flaming ball of molten rock. Always they would wait for humanity to reach a certain level of sophistication, then tear civilization down and watch as they scattered like frightened ants, scrambling to rebuild.

Sometimes they directly intervened, sparking natural disasters like the one that cast Atlantis into the sea. More often they would simply plant seeds of discord during brittle moments in history and let nature take its course. Such had been the case during the Fall of Rome, the Sacking of Constantinople, the Holocaust, even the rise of ISIS in the Middle East.

He glanced at the suitcase by his feet. If only the passengers in the car with him could see what it contained. The item inside would raze civilization to the ground, plunging the world into a second Dark Age.

When at last he reached the station, he caught himself humming the tune of London Bridge Is Falling Down. He smiled when he considered just how true that was going to be.

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