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"A Wilder Land"
by W. Keith Work

[Webmaster's note: "A Wilder Land" is a story W. Keith Work started posting to the list in installments in September 1998. He soon created a site for his creation, which grew and reached a conclusion. Initially, I was posting each chapter here, but replaced it all with a link when he created his site. Now, his site is gone. I'll have to get the new address or permission to put the whole story here. For now, I give you the first few chapters. Maybe you'll get really into it and mail him for the rest!]

1. The Chase

She.

She calls to me. To say that I respond is the grossest misstatement of all. My conscious will need never be invoked. Brain and body act unbidden. Like a child, or a mother, or a luminescent host - grand and terrible in its beauty - to look on her is to be witness to utter fulfillment. Standing at the mountain's pinnacle, arms outstretched, stars shining, and still lifted higher. She is the shadowy dream of adolescence taken form. The passion, the envy, the fantasy of every creature, the raison d'ętre, the wellspring of the soul, the heart, the spleen… and she calls to me.

Maxx...

My queen beckons. But what is this?! The very firmament tugs at me! I am trapped here, arms sinking into the billowy folds...

Maxx?

I cannot reach her! I must be free of this semi-solid ground! Stand and shake off this wet, meaty earth that holds me!

"Maxx!! Jesus, what's wrong with you?!" Annie never was much for sympathy. She stands over me, blocking the t.v., with yellow dishwashing gloves on. "Didn't I ask you to do these for me?" I just nod and shlep off to the kitchen. I didn't really want to know the capital of Paraguay anyway. And there are more practical ways to waste my time, dishes for instance.

But, even doing something mundane as cleaning house (a rare diversion for us both), I can't stop looking at her. She wears crappy clothes, maybe on purpose, to thwart my gaze, but what she doesn't know is that I watch her neck. Thin and clean and graceful, even in anger or stress, I love to gaze on it. It's smooth. Her hair's pulled up and tied over her head like a disheveled Krishna and I can see the two small muscles at the front of her throat making a perfect little 'V'... It's almost intoxicating (or is that the dishwater?). If she only knew...

Annie is very small. At least I think of her as small (is she?). I play with her before we go to bed - she curls up with her knees to her chin and I wrap my arms around her bundled self and lift her up, not very far though. She's heavy for a small person. And I lay my face down on her little belly (when she'll let me) and feel the soft blond hairs brush against my cheek. And I look up into her eyes and sometimes I just fall asleep there. Then again, sometimes I blow a big fart on her belly button "PPPPPPPPPP!" and she pushes me away, laughing, "Stop! That's gross!", and we laugh ourselves to sleep. We were made for each other.

Until we go to sleep, that is. We're both fitful sleepers and one of the most common topics of conversation is last night's dream. But my dream is always the same. In it, I'm not merely Maxx but The Maxx (!), giant, muscle-bound, hero of the Wilder Land saving my precious Jungle Queen. Even though my Queen has never actually appeared in my dream, my mission is always clear. I bound through the steamy undergrowth, dodging the giant Game Trees to catch up with another me that is always just within sight. My prey is even more fleet of foot than I, and he is, at times, only a swift shadow through the trees. He moves unlike any creature in the world of man, so sharp and purposeful is his path. I can see the hulking, purple back of my costumed self and on occasion, turning around, I feel the touch of fear to see the huge mask of teeth ready to rend my prey to bits. Behind me is The Pursuer - also me, but evil and twisted. His giant claws, cleansed in the molten rock of his birth, tear the lush green of the jungle clean away before him. The Pursuer does not dart and gambol nimbly as I do, but deconstructs his obstacles in single-minded determination to reach me - he is the chase and nothing more.

This dream is so vivid that I sometimes experience it at all hours of the day. I find myself tracking prey through the narrow streets of this dark, wet city and I wonder if The Pursuer is being followed as well - if my prey has his own large, purple target and if that target is me. The dream, while giving The Maxx some sense of purpose, has taken its toll on Maxx - on my life. Employment is no longer possible. I've chased postmen, dogs, even old ladies away from every business establishment or place of residence that I've known. Annie recognizes that she can't ask me to stop, that that's not within my power. The Maxx will bend his knee for no one.

I think she enjoys the excitement of my occasional delusions. Although she refuses to admit it, I think I may threaten her at times and that bothers me. It bothers me that she doesn't recognize the extent of this dream of mine and the very real power it holds. I'm sane enough to recognize it for what it is - danger. But I've never hurt her, so I can let it slide.

"You're not mad are you? Sorry for yelling." My frequent silence gives her pause.

"No, no... Didn't even notice."

She hugs my stomach, "Gonna chase me off down the street now?".

"You never know..."

She gives me a Heimlich poke in the gut and bites her bottom lip - so cute. Unfortunately, her behind me, I can't munch on her neck a little or I'd be right there. What can I say? We were made for each other.

2. If I Were a Barbie Doll

Hi. My name's Sara and uh... Well, I think this whole thing is kinda ridiculous but I saw your ad and figured what the hell. Let's see now, I'm 19, 5'5", 130lbs, with long black hair (does this sound like a call girl or what?) and lots of baggy sweaters and crap. I'm sorry, this is just too out of character for me. I'm having a hard time staying in my 'what the hell' groove.

Okay, so I'm your average looking girl. I like good conversation and have to have someone with a brain. I am NOT some clueless sex kitten, though the idea has its allure. I'm an atheist and a strict realist in the sense that I don't bother to lie. Like the thing about being a sex kitten. I'm honest enough with myself to know that sex kittens have a lot of fun, lots of friends and opportunities, and are by and large very happy people. And I'd certainly like to be happy.

Then again, I also take some refuge in a combative sort of self-pity that happiness would put a big strain on. When you have the ability to just look down on everyone, there's no need to try and reach out to them. That's the idea - self-containment. I don't have to risk rejection because, the theory goes, I don't need other people. Of course, that's not true but it's a believable theory and it serves me pretty well.

Anyway, I've wandered. Like I was saying, it'd be great to be a Barbie doll. Then I wouldn't even have to leave the house to be popular. A little miniskirt action and I could bat my eyelashes into a cushy marriage to a really rich guy and then do whatever I wanted. If I were a Barbie doll. The only drawback to this is that those kind of girls are usually about as smart as that steamed cappucino they drink.

Now the really smart Barbie dolls are the ones to look out for. I haven't met one, but I can imagine. She would have everyone in her pocket.

I'm sorry, I'm wandering again. I plan to be a writer so even a stupid video dating application has to be a diatribe on the ills of society. Enough about me. I guess the kinda guy I'm looking for is just someone to understand. No matter what I do, I've never met a guy that seemed to 'get it'. You know what I mean? Either they're shallow social climbers or deadbeat wannabe poets. They never seem to have an emotion at all and have no idea who I am or what I might need. Then again, I can't say I date a lot but that's probably due to the crazy sort of defense mechanisms I've constructed (and decorated, maintained, polished, etc.).

I feel really stupid writing all this down so I can give it to a perfect stranger and they can show it to every desperate loser in town. What the hell is wrong with me? Do guys exist that are like me? I mean, statistically speaking, they must. And I guess that's what I'm looking for.

So here it is in a nutshell. If you can't stand to be near people but are secretly drawn to them and can't stand that either; if you really don't want to be so pathetic as to turn in a personal ad to find a friend but you feel it may have come to that anyway; if you know that you deserve much better than you've received in life; if you hate yourself for being so self-conscious; and if you know that you want someone to share things with but just can't imagine who that person is: I'm your girl.

Thank you. And I'm twirling my auburn locks in anticipation of your reply.

3. The Jungle Queen

Julie Winters didn't like to drive, so she was in the passenger's seat. She'd worn a familiar groove in the leatherette upholstery of Tilly's big Buick. Neil Young tried, with catchy tune, to cheer her up from the dashboard AM, but she was never very cheery these days. Maybe it was a carry over from the self-importance of high school, maybe all those black T-shirts had convinced her that self-pity equaled character. Maybe she'd had an unlucky childhood and an episode with a bad boyfriend and a very sharp knife. Or, then again, maybe it was me.

At any rate, she was there and she wasn't happy. Tilly, on the other hand, was a woman who could be nothing but happy, believing her exuberance must someday rub off on Julie. Tilly, you see, believed in Flower Power. Need I say more?

The Buick, for it's a character in our little fable as well, was a dinosaur of rust and chrome. It belched smoke in a continuous cloud that forced children out of the streets in its wake. It rattled and groaned and could not have been more disgustingly obvious in its dilapidation. But Tilly loved it. The Buick had belonged to her father and, though she didn't know it, to his father. It had seen over 100,000 miles of city streets across the country, had been host to prostitutes, jugglers, and county marshals, among others, and The Buick had even killed a man.

"So what happened??" Tilly was building a love story for her younger friend.

"Jesus Christ, nothing! What do you expect, some pathetic lowlife fondles himself while I'm buying groceries and I'm just gonna up and ask him if I can have his children? He was disgusting."

Southern man better keep your head...

"Oh, come on now, there was a part of you that liked it... right?? I mean, a guy throws himself at you like that, you must have got something right!"

Don't forget what your...

"You are a hormone queen, you know that, don't you?"

...good book said.

"And you are a sexually frustrated young woman who needs to see her opportunities when they present themselves. You think you've got..."

Suddenly Julie almost stood up in her seat and yelled "Tilly!". The reason for this exclamation was that a squirrel, and how you find a squirrel in a city other than by accident is beyond me, darted out of a narrow alley and shot straight into the road. Tilly, in the heat of advice, didn't see it till it was already across the road and out of her way. What she did see a moment later was what appeared to be a sack of clothes running with all his might directly behind said squirrel. She also couldn't help but notice, even in the fraction of a second before she hit him, that the sack was screaming at the top of its lungs, "Run!! Run!! You will not escape me! For I am..."

And then she nearly very squished our dear friend Maxx.

Tilly quickly got out of the car, panic stricken and made her way to the large, heavily clothed and presumably dead body. Julie was considerably more concerned at the idea of exposing herself to what she assumed would be a bloody mess and stayed put, trying to see over the hood what might have happened to the unfortunate beggar. Tilly shook him and called loudly, "Are you all right?? Jesus, please say you're okay! I didn't even see you till..."

"Step back - please - you are in danger..." Maxx had his face down to the road but was at least alive. Tilly was ecstatic.

"Oh, thank god!" She was shaking through every limb, "Let me see you... are you all right?"

Through clenched teeth he said "I have told you, you are in danger! Step away from the mask!", and he took hold of one of her ankles, never looking up, and slowly but forcefully slid her back. "The Maxx does not harm the innocent creatures, but cannot be held responsible for the folly of the insane." He then looked up from a face covered completely in grease and mud and issued a smoldering stare as his final warning.

"What the hell", she mumbled, "are you talking about?" Tilly was a little worried - was he on something? Acid? He needed help. With startling speed, though, Maxx was on his feet, still glaring at her. She called for reinforcements, "Julie, hon, come on out will ya? I think he's having a bad trip on something. We gotta get him somewhere for help..."

Julie opened the door a crack and called, "What? This guys crazy! How do you know he won't...", and she was stopped short by the reaction of the massive, apparently homeless bundle of clothing. He immediately wheeled around to face the second creature when he heard her call. Then he saw her and gasped sharply, lurching forward to lean on the Buick's hood while his knees tried to give out. His breathing became shallow and forced and his eyes went wide with shock. Julie, honestly worried now, stood up and looked over the top of the door at him. He seemed to be having a psychotic reaction of some sort to the drugs she assumed he'd taken. He couldn't stand and was almost completely incoherent. She heard him mumble 3 very important words before he collapsed and they were left with the problem of getting him to a doctor:

The Jungle Queen! She has finally appeared to me! When The Great Oz struck me down with his huge horn as I ran, she came to rescue me. She held The Predator at bay and administered her great elixirs to heal me. All the creatures of the Wilder Land gathered near my broken body, praying that their protector would not be taken from them. They brought me offerings and cradled my body to protect me.

For days unnumbered they sat by my side when The Jungle Queen could not be with me. The innocent creatures laid their bodies on my wounds and became my new flesh. I wept for their sacrifice and was born again into this primitive plain. When my Queen saw that her work was done, she called me to return to my quest, to take up the chase and to protect the jungle as I had before.

Now that I had seen her beauteous form, I knew that we were linked together. She talks to me occasionally, urges me to rest from the chase while in her presence so that she might discuss with me the wonders of this place. It was then that I realized that my quest had hindered my understanding of the true nature of the Wilder Land that I was in. She is a wondrous creature, filled with knowledge and, at times, with wrath. I know that it is only I that can understand her words - the innocent creatures are struck dumb in her presence and scatter to the wind.

I must also acknowledge the presence of another form in the jungle, one that may even rival me. I speak not of The Great Oz, he is only the most powerful of the innocents and though his eyes smolder with his own chase, I cannot fear the leathery rhino. The presence I speak of is one that also communicates with me, leads me to understand this land and even speaks of me.

-Yes Maxx, it is I.-

But where?? I only see my prey. Why do you hide in the undergrowth?

- I speak to you from a different place, Maxx. - From outside your little hidden fort. - I am the man of two worlds, the keeper of secrets, Maxx, and you still don't recognize this place. - This Wilder Land does not belong to you. -

The Maxx is a hunter! The Queen his master! Why do you challenge me from afar?

- Oh Maxx, the poor hopping melchit. - Some day we'll have to make it plain to you, but not today. - Your Queen is calling. - Better you hop along back to your chase. - And don't let it worry you, there's no real reason to be afraid. - It'll all come in time. -

Interlude: The Body

William Hogue tended to sing while he drove, especially driving long distances. On that desolate road, in the middle of the night, he was singing loudly when he drove past the body.

His first thought, only half realized, was that it was a sack of discarded clothes. He kept driving. Then a strange detail, like one of those memories you thought were lost, stopped his singing mid-verse. It was the shoes. Small white tennis shoes appeared to have been protruding from the sack out towards the roadway in exactly the same way that a person's legs might have. Should he go back?

Then the idea that had been forming in the milliseconds that had passed suddenly revealed itself and he was swept up in visions of glory, though these too were only half realized - visions of saving a man's life, of being the hero, of rescuing another desperate traveler. His foot was already on the brake and he was turning around in the road, around the concrete blockade put up for the construction, up the uneven asphalt to the opposite lane that lay a bit higher than the one he had started on. Clambering on to that higher ground, he toggled the high beams on the truck and began looking for the unknown object on the opposite side.

Billie Hogue, you see, was a man in search of meaning. He had always tended toward the grandiose, as far back as elementary school when he spilled another boy's blood on his Sesame Street Story Book to get it back, and he was the first to admit that tendency. To him, it was a sign of ambition, a badge he could wear at parties (were he ever invited). He liked to tell the story of the time his apartment building caught on fire and he ran up the stairs above the burning ground floor to help people - and even their pets - out of their homes. The firemen had to order him to just leave the damn cat and get down from there which, of course, he didn't do. Even on that balcony, he knew that he needed a story to tell. And it was good.

During his short stint in the Navy, he dreamed of making it through to the SEAL teams and then moving on to his birthright: espionage combat, stealth operations, a life of glory under fire and deep cover. In the unrelenting spit-and-polish of basic training, those fantasies were easy to slip into. It was a shock, but only a brief one, to reach his first real duty post and see a dingy office with bare walls and pot-bellied NCO's. After a month of real service, his fantasies had nearly slipped away, massaged out of his head by the boredom of ceaseless paperwork. Other than the occasional field exercise, he grew quickly to loath the Navy and looked forward to the end of what he came to call his sentence.

Another pin that pricked at him was Corpsman Scott who served in the small office next to his. Scott amounted to a glorified secretary for the base's Mental Health Unit. He had that overbearing sort of nicety that seemed to Billy to be required of those in the health professions. Whatever came in the door at MHU, you knew Corpsman Scott was going to treat it like a dear old friend. Maybe that was why everyone seemed to like him so much. His dyed blond hair and trendy music always kept the waves coming in and inviting him to lunch, or to their father's boat house, or to their cozy, fringed poster beds back home - at least that's what Billy assumed. And he was correct.

The marines, on the other hand, hated the Corpsman. Then again, they hated everyone who wasn't a marine, including Billy. He frequently saw them around the base and he had a great deal of respect for them. He wished he had joined the Marine Corps instead of the Navy, even though they were closely related. The sheer discipline and precision appealed to his love of function over form, and the Silent Drill Team had crept into his fantasies as well.

His wife had forbidden him to join the Marine Corps. "If you've got to go play soldier," she had said on more than one occasion, "fine, but you're not getting brainwashed by those freaks! You have a child to think about, you know!" After a year of marriage - her at 29, he at 18 - she rarely addressed him at anything less than a roar. Or, for that matter, with anything other than an order or a reprimand (or one thinly veiled as the other). But that was a long, long time ago.

Squinting into that darkness with just the stark light of his headlamps to see by, Bill started to wonder what he might find when he went back. What if this guy's in really bad shape? What if some crazy cut him up or shot him in the head or something? Why else would a guy be way the hell out here? Was it for money? Then the bundle loomed up again out of the night and startled him a bit in the harsh high beams. He slowed to a stop pulling off to the side and looked across his left shoulder trying to see what it was he might not want to see. After a minute or so, he'd made up his mind.

He switched the engine off, opened his door and examined the body, long distance style, in the dim light that came on overhead. The buzzing door warning that sounded, that he usually cursed, helped to keep him calm and give him something familiar to consider while he looked across two lanes and the concrete separator wall and tried to see blood. At least that might tell him something of what to expect, but he saw none. He still couldn't even make out the position of the body - only the feet jutting out almost into the road. At last he got out and closed the door with a slam, cursing himself for his girlish fears. Well hell, he thought, whatever it is, I seen worse. Then one of the feet he was moving toward slowly shifted. The toe drooped and then rose again. He stopped short and then realized that the body he was approaching was not dead.

Suddenly this was no longer an encounter with a horrific body, but something else entirely. He started to run, took the low concrete wall without a hitch and was there in a matter of seconds. He startled himself again calling loudly to the bundle of dusty clothes, "Say, you okay there bud? Hello?" He could see long hair and torn cloth and mud, but that was all until he reached down and turned the body over in an attempt to discover the injury. He could tell the general area of damage was to the right side of the body - the side on the ground - after having a quick look, but that was not the most startling thing about this half dead person on a desolate road in the middle of the night. It was a woman.

4. A Stranger

"That's me. There in the tie."

"Okay, and who's this you're talking to?"

"That's, uh, just a customer. He's about to leave and then it happens. Okay, there he goes. Now watch this!"

On the miniature black and white monitor was an overhead view of a small foyer. The kind of dark paneled restaurant foyers seen in any city across the country. A low marble counter with a cash register framed one side of the image and square, Louis XIV chairs protruded horizontally into the other side. The checkered tile floor was empty except for the image of a young woman in wrinkled slacks, short sleeves, and a bow tie. Dear Julie Winters. She walked off camera toward the top left of the frame and as soon as she had done so a tall, thin man was standing in the middle of the floor.

"There! You see? Where'd he come from?!" She said, with tears welling in her eyes from the shock of it.

The security man, fiftyish, graying, frowned a little. "Let's look again." He rewound the tape a bit and there was the customer and the young woman again. Customer leaves, she walks out of frame, and there he is. After watching it two more times, he said "Well, hell" in the form of a long, drawn out sigh.

"My first impression is this: the tape is doctored. Now I doubt that you did it, because you seem real sincere but..."

"Doctored my ass! I'm telling you that he just appeared out of nowhere and this tape proves it. See, there I am now, coming back to talk to the guy. I could hardly walk! I knew there was no one there and then 'poof!' there he is!" She was near tears now, and the older man didn't want to disturb her anymore.

"Okay, okay, just relax. Look, we'll keep this and have a look at it with some pros and... we'll get back to you, okay?" I'm a woman, she thought sarcastically, I must be hysterical. God forbid I should see something with my own two eyes and he believes me! Frustrated and still in some state of shock, she simply walked out.

That night, Julie was still suffering. She lay in bed thinking about the enormity of what she had seen. The fact that a man could simply appear out of nowhere was so shocking that it affected her in a way that nothing else ever had. It was an assault on her belief system. Not the belief in God and death, or of ghosts haunting old mansions, or any other superstitious feeling, but it was a defiance of the fundamental conceptions on which her whole life rested. The sky is blue, rocks fall downward, and people don't simply appear, they arrive. It was an assault on her reality and in her attempts to wrap her mind round what had happened, she had worked herself into a near frenzy of panic.

Then, in the dark apartment bedroom, she heard the voice, slow and deliberate. "Don't be very afraid. I am here."

Panic! She screamed and thrashed and cried and the next thing she knew she was in the hallway in her pajamas bolting down the stairs and out the front door of her building to find some refuge from this onslaught and for christ's sake this wasn't happening and she just had to get control and the damn thing talked to her! And when she thought of the words 'I am here', the panic just rose up again and forced her to run all the faster. It choked off her screams and blurred her vision and where in the hell was she going??

She fell on the sidewalk in front of the one alley in the city that she considered to be safe. And her protector awaited her. The runnel of water muddied her clothes as she crawled toward the large cardboard box. She whispered, not knowing why, "Maxx." A small movement in the box. The groggy chortles of a man slowly awakening.

"My Queen?" he muttered, still asleep. She crawled in beside him, curled round his body. Amid the comforting and familiar drips and scurries of the alleyway, she held tight to him and tried to sleep, tried to forget and, drifting, she dreamed.

**
Where am I? Am I dreaming? I've heard of this, people who can realize they're dreaming. Can I fly?

If you like, yes.

The grass feels good. Am I naked?

That's up to you. It's not a problem here.

I can't stop laughing. This is wonderful. I must be dreaming.

It doesn't have to make sense here, Julie. Just know that you are here and that you are safe.

Hello... There's a groundhog or a gopher or something. He's waving at me! Hello! Hi there! He's so cute it's pathetic. What is this?

It's all right. Don't worry.

Who are you? Why are you in my dream?

Keep laughing, Julie. Don't ruin it.

Ruin what? Am I imagining you?

Julie...

It's getting darker. What's happening?

Be still, please. Just relax a moment and try to let go.

I don't see you. This isn't right.

Where are you, Julie?

What do you mean? I'm here. It's really getting dark now. What happened to the gopher? Wait... Someone's coming.

Where are you, Julie?

Stop saying that! Who are you?

Where are you? I'm in my dream.

The Maxxis ™ and © Sam Kieth.
Dwellers of the Outback created and maintained by Chris Caughey.
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