Huntmaster Richter need not remind his men of this fact, but he does, stoking their lust to kill. Before they shoot, though, they look at me. Since my sixteenth birthday three months ago, I’ve been a Seer and therefore a Seer of the Hunt. Why should these older, harder men seek my guidance on anything, especially Richter? He’s forty years older and, I believe, has no faith in the wisdom of the Seers. The only vision he trusts is what he finds in his gun scope.
Yet even he awaits my nod.
I look down into the desert valley, into another once-fertile place blasted into a wasteland by the weapons of the Drossan. That fierce alien race is a stubborn shadow in my mind. I cannot say, however, I ever saw one. It is impossible to think that I never did. We all did. The invasion happened in my lifetime. I think my memory problem must be part of being a Seer. I’m supposed to see the future, not dwell on images of the past.
But how can I stare at the five unsuspecting traitors we’re about to kill and not see the past? We overthrew the Drossan at a terrible cost. The traitors are people who sided with the aliens when they seemed unbeatable. In our victory, we exiled these false brothers and sisters by the thousands, forcing them to live in this hell without technology, without hope. They were supposed to die of starvation or disease. But the traitors survive, somehow. So our hunting parties go forth each day to accomplish what the environment has not.
“Seer of the Hunt, do you foresee good shooting?” asks Richter.
I make sure they all see me close my eyes. It helps them believe I’m looking into the future.
“Fire,” I say.
The traitors die seconds later. A dozen bloody screams echo through the valley, chasing after the noise of the gunfire.
One of the hunters smiles at me with supreme confidence. “Once again, the Seer of the Hunt’s vision has come true!”
“Only through your efforts,” I say.
My compliment verges on careless blasphemy. A Seer’s prophecy is held to be absolute and pre-destined. The notion that my supposed vision required their skill, even when it obviously did—well, my father has a word for it. Treacherous.
We return to Almindor, my city, first among the Twelve Great Cities, and halt in front of the temple. The hunting parties always begin and end outside of the temple, and I’m certain our party is the last one back. After receiving the men’s thanks again, I take my leave and head up the temple steps, knowing the rest of my order will already have gathered inside. I pause at the temple door. I sense Richter staring at my back and turn. It’s true. My pivot startles him into hurrying away. I don’t know what his stare meant. I’m just thrilled my premonition was true.
Perhaps I am not a fraud after all.
But after an hour in the temple, gathered in a circle of Seers led by my father, doubt returns. Of the thirty Seers of Almindor, I am the youngest by a great many years. My father is the oldest. After reporting on the success of our morning hunts, we join hands and stare into a fire while making a chanting sound. I’m sure I don’t chant right. There’s an art to it that seems to elude me. I’m positive, however, that I don’t chant like my father. Everything he does is perfect and natural.
“Seer Edmonds,” my father says, “what do you foresee?”
Seer Edmonds is about forty, with long, braided blond hair. Just the tips of each braid are gray, as if touched by frost.
“Flowers will bloom in the desert.”
“I see that too,” says Seer Rossard. “More, I see a clear blue sky and clear rain. I have been seeing clear, clean rain for many weeks now. It falls on the ground without making mud and brings forth green sprouts.”
We bless this vision of renewal, which is exactly what every other Seer reports. Flowers in the desert. Blooms in the wastelands. The death of all traitors. The Twelve Cities becoming Thirteen, and Fourteen, and Fifteen.
There were thousands of cities before the Drossan.
“I see peace for our world,” says Seer Moriant.
“I see one thousand years of prosperity.”
My father says this. Were he not the head of Almindor’s Seers, I would not believe his prediction. He sounds like the others, so very earnest, so very right. The weight of my inability grows..
Now it is my turn. I’ve needed time to piece together a phony prophecy by stealing elements from the last twenty-nine.
Father looks at me. His expression is inscrutable, but I believe he feels as nervous as I. It was he who brought me into the temple, certain of my gifts. I cannot fail him. “Seer Thomas, what do you see?”
“Birds in the trees, and rain,” I say. “Very clear and cleansing rain. And the sky—it is blue. And—”
No, please don’t happen now.
Until two months ago, I have never had even a single vision. Then I got my first. It happened at night, when I was almost asleep. I woke in the dark terrified and drained by the experience. Since then the images have come more frequently, each one reaching greater heights of terror. But until now, they’ve still only happened at night.
I break the circle and clutch my head. I can’t even speak. I see death and destruction. I see a man setting another man on fire. A woman slits a man’s throat. Another woman then shoots her point blank in the head. It is a war, a very personal and intimate war, with no shadow of the great ships of the Drossan. I see the strong beat the weak. I see the weak take up weapons. The sky darkens and the world grows cold. Bombs fall. Brown and coarse sand replaces rich, silt soil.
“Seer Thomas?” my father says.
“I—I am sorry,” I say, attempting to recover and reaching my hands out to rejoin the circle. “I see . . . overwhelming beauty. I praise the certain future!”
After a lingering moment of silence, my father smiles at this, our mantra, and repeats it. At once all of the Seers do, too.
I smile as best I can because I must. It is awful to have lips that can lie without speaking.
When our session adjourns, Father and I go home together in silence. The aroma of supper invites us in and we sit at the table. Father and I avoid eye contact as mother compliments us and serves us.
“You should have heard Thomas talk of his vision, Meriel. It was beautiful.”
Mother smiles at me as she sits. “I knew you had the gift, just like your father.”
The two of them start talking and eating, absorbed by each other’s company. I do the most desperate thing: I hunch forward in my chair and put my head in my hands. I hold this pose, expecting them to notice me. I’m right next to them. Surely father will become concerned and question me. How else will I ever find the courage to tell him I am a fraud? Or am I worse than a fraud? Am I a defective Seer?
There’s a moment’s lull in their interaction that frightens me into straightening up and eating. What would happen if my father did find me out? It would surely disappoint him to learn I didn’t have the gifts everyone assumed he’d passed on to me. But his duties as Chief Seer of Almindor came before his responsibilities as a father. Were my deception discovered, he’d have to declare me a heretic and impose the necessary sentence.
So I must keep lying.
Father and I go off together to the temple and part ways to join our hunting parties. Once more Huntmaster Richter waits for me, this time with a new troop of men. He and I are the only constants, as every citizen of Almidor must eventually partake in the hunt as part of their civic duty. There is no apprehension on their faces. They look overeager and straining, birds of prey chained to a branch while the wind gusts at their backs.
“Remember, men,” Richter says. “The traitors look like us—”
“But they are not us!” The men shout back.
Richter trains his gun at the sky and peers at a cloud through the scope. He is ready to make it bleed rain. “Show us the path, Seer of the Hunt.”
The rest of the party stares at me and I would do almost anything to live up to their expressions of awe and faith. If only Seers could be mascots, simple good luck charms along for the ride. I’m never more fearful than when I’m consulted for guidance.
I close my eyes. All at once, a scene of destruction appears out of the darkness: a woman is driven up against a wall and choked. I gasp, opening my eyes. The vision vanishes.
I just point and the men cheer. Richter sets his jaw as the party runs toward their vehicles. The chains are loosened from about their talons at last.
I take the passenger seat next to Richter in his personal transport and we race away. Beyond Almindor’s gates, the terrain transforms with alarming speed into hateful desert. I still do not see how the traitors have survived, have thrived out here without shelter, without food or water. I rub my forehead.
“Are you sure of this direction, Seer?”
Almost indignant, I set my jaw and stare at him. His undisguised sarcasm is an offense that could earn even him a penalty.
“Very,” I say, trying to be calm. But one-word responses are terse by nature. I can’t help but sound furious.
Why be mad at him? He’s an imposing and competent man shackled to the whims of a sixteen-year old fraud. I have no doubt about Richter’s vision. He sees through me.
“How long will this go on, Richter?”
“Will what go on?”
“The killings. The hunting parties.”
“As a Seer, you are surely more qualified than I to know.”
“But how many traitors are there?”
“Tens of thousands.”
“That many people sided with the Drossan?”
He shifts in his seat and moves his neck side to side until it cracks. “They must have.”
“But don’t you know?”
“I know only my duty.” For once, Richter sounds distant. Doubtful.
“Didn’t they trust the Seers and their vision of victory?”
“They were always faithless worms, even before the invasion,” Richter says, confidence returning to his tone. “They look like us, but they are not us.”
Soon afterwards he stops our convoy without consulting me. We get out and he gathers the men and has them fan out along a ridge to scan the desert floor for tracks. This can take hours, but we luck out with a quick find—a group of five traitors huddled under the shade of a great red rock. The men get on their bellies and cozy up with their guns. Richter turns to me.
“Seer of the Hunt, do you foresee good shooting?”
What would happen if I said no? What would he do? I picture him looking confused. I imagine him feeling impotent and worthless. Yes.
“No,” I say.
The order to fire is already forming on Richter’s lips before his brain processes what I’ve said. His expression satisfies me more than I imagined. The men are looking at me in wonder and fear.
“What did you say, Seer of the Hunt?”
The men start to rise. Richter slashes the air with his right hand and orders them to retarget the traitors. Then he stares down into the valley. “Surely the Seer of the Hunt is mis . . . guided in this prophecy. Do try again.”
What am I doing? I feel like I’ve started a game with no rules. I close my eyes, preparing to take the exit Richter is giving me.
Just before I say, “Yes,” more hallucinations hit me. I become what I see. A man throws a woman to the ground. I land on my right arm and stare up at him. For a moment, I see Richter. Then I see—it is my father! He looks different—not older, as he should in a vision of the future, but younger. How can this be? In the next instant I’m jarred again and see my father and the woman from the side. I strain to see her. Who is she?
The vision will not bend itself to let me see her face.
It takes a moment to realize they’re not happening in my vision. “Richter!” I say, believing he has ordered his men to fire. Then a heavy weight blankets me. Hands shove my face into the grit.
The hunting party seems to cry out in a single voice. “Seer! Seer! Help us!”
My desperate thrashing earns a low, mocking laugh from whoever holds me. Many voices call out, their words punctuated by more shots. Bullets make effective periods. Terrifying silence ensues. I focus on the hands that clutch me, the sear of the sand against my cheek, and the chaos in my heart—the only heart, it seems, in the entire universe. Somehow its pounding will travel along the ground and back to Almindor to warn my father. Then I remember the look on his younger face: Hateful, angry, and murderous as he stood over that woman.
Did he kill her?
Sobbing, I’m pulled to my feet. We’ve been ambushed. Had I been a true Seer, I would have known about it. I have driven my hunting party to its doom. Traitors encircle me, hundreds of them. After blinking out the tears, I see there really are no more than thirty. For a mad instant I can almost believe I’m back in the temple. But their number includes women. This shocks me. It would be like having my mother in a hunting party. Barbarians!
The sight of sprawled bodies and the clumping red sand all around muzzle me from yelling my contempt.
A man about the age of my father steps forward. Like the other traitors, his face is rough, punished by weather, his sparse hair gray, his scalp burned like the skin of his arms. The group backs away in deference.
“You’re a Seer?”
He smiles. “Well, young prophet, are you surprised to not have seen all of this coming?”
My face must redden to the color of his sunburn. The traitors, however, do not seize the moment to laugh at my humiliation. The man himself gives little more than a faint, almost apologetic smile.
“But I did see it!”
His smile becomes more noticeable. “Poor deluded fool. But remember,” he says, turning to address his companions, “it is not his fault.”
“It is not his fault,” the traitors say in unison.
He commands them with a hand wave. In an instant I’m blinded with a hood. Someone slaps my face when I cry out, shocking me back to silence. Then I’m forced to march with them, my arms gripped by men far stronger than me. I hear engines gunning. Has help arrived? No, it is just the traitors taking what they’ve captured, the vehicles, the guns and myself—all of equal worth.
What do they want? Ransom? There’s a darker possibility. Knowing I’m a Seer, the traitors must be rubbing their hands at the thought of using me to see the future. Maybe they’ll torture a vision out of me. What will happen when what I tell them turns out to be a worthless lie?
Maybe they’ll just kill me.
My legs lock up and I pitch forward. My captors drag me. It becomes harder to breathe through the hood. The imposed darkness explodes into fragments of images, halting scenes of violence and violations. I am looking at a grainy sequence where my father sits at a table, screaming at a man sitting beside him. My father pounds his fist. The world is falling apart. Five columns of fire rise on the horizon. Cities I’ve never seen before, cities far greater than Almindor, disintegrate. It must be the Drossan! Their attack is starting. People like my father, people who fought the aliens from the start, must have already seen the traitors among them. The woman he threw to the ground must have been a traitor. The man my father argues with at the table must be begging us to accept surrender.
I see armies of men marching through the streets. I see riots. Where are the aliens? When will they come?
My shaking becomes too much and I slip from my captors’ hands. I fall forward, screaming. I curse the traitors for what they did. I weep out the details of what I’ve seen, my terror spewing into words. Then the hood is stripped off my face and the older man bends down, our noses almost touching, and cups my face.
“Tell me everything.”
The carnage in my head has too keen an edge for the dull words I give them. It is as if I want a bland description to somehow strip the images of their potency—of their reality. I hear my voice as if spoken by another. It’s a matter-of-fact voice, a voice that hoards syllables. “War. Father. Hate. Kill.” I see a war I cannot comprehend and I see my father with a look of sheer hate on his face. People are killing each other in the streets.
“Astonishing,” the older man says, backing away. He has me raised to my feet.
We are in a bunker of some sort. The ground is concrete rather than sand, though I never noticed the change. It is a squalid place but it is shelter. Despite myself, I feel relief for my captors. It is impossible to look at their sunburns and not be glad for shade.
He waves the traitors away, and we are alone.
“Your visions, boy—how often do they happen?”
I square my shoulders. “I’m a Seer. I always have—”
His plain, uncompromising stare thwarts my bravado.
“Usually at night,” I say.
“When did you first see them?”
“Two months ago.”
“And do you also see what the other Seers see—visions of prosperity and peace?”
“How do you know anything about the Seers?”
He smiles. “You might say I used to be one. Anyone with a little foresight and a little honesty can be a seer. Sometimes such attributes get a man exiled to the desert.”
I scoff at him. “When were you ever a Seer?”
“Oh, young man, this world once had many Seers. They called themselves pundits, columnists, journalists, sociologists, politicians. Long names, little substance, liars all—”
“My father is no liar! He is the head Seer of Almindor and a great—”
The look of shock on the man’s face satisfies me. He fears my father.
“Your father is Michael Odeilik?”
Now the shock is mine. “How do you know my family name?”
“Michael,” he says, shaking his head in wonder. He grins and closes his eyes like a Seer. “Then you must be . . .Thomas.”
I flinch, reaching back for a wall that isn’t there. He steps into the space I occupied.
“The son of Michael Odeilik. This is the greatest stroke of luck.”
“What are you going to do to me?”
“Don’t be afraid. Your father and I were once very close. Business associates, political leaders—friends. Did you ever hear the name Carl Drossan?”
Just hearing his name gives me a jolt. I hear Drossan and think of the aliens. I hear Carl Drossan and think of something else. Like a key unlocking a door, I sway with the power of a new image. Once more it is my father and another man looking down at me. Both men are younger and so very tall, as if I look up at them from a child’s eyes.
“So you recognize my name,” he says. “It was your father’s last savage kick, making me the villain of his ridiculous mythology.”
“Mythology?” My voice is ragged.
He grips my face in both hands again and stares into my eyes. “You and all the people who remain in the cities are programmed creatures. Your minds were conditioned to believe certain things. There are no aliens. There never were. The people of this planet need no outside force to devastate it.”
The simple, sad tone of his voice creates a damnable trust, even though I know he’s deceiving me.
The close proximity of the man’s face, the things he says, my confusions and doubts all combine to spark another vision. It’s as if a whole other world reveals itself and I slump to the ground in the man’s arms. He eases me down. I moan, ashamed when the tears come, the water for a raft of emotions that are childlike in their terror. It is an orphan’s fear, a pitiless and cold distress.
The spires of Almindor look like stripped trees that have rained their leaves and their fruit down like bombs upon the people. The cities are at war with each other. The rioting is intensely personal, collective yet individual in its barbarity. My father shoves a woman onto the ground and begins to beat the man who was hiding behind her. Similar scenes happen everywhere, beyond my capacity to count. The men and women on the streets have purple faces. The clouds in the sky are purple with rain and lightening.
How can all of this come to pass? What will happen to cause such hatred? How far in the future is this?
I tell him what I see.
“Don’t be afraid of it, Thomas. This is wonderful.”
Appalled by his reaction, I try to push away. I lash out but my fists make glancing contact. “Only a traitor could love what I’ve seen!”
“Love? That is not the right word at all. Remember is a better choice.”
Staring at me with a blunt, unsparing expression, he begins to describe my visions in such detail that I shudder. He might as well be in my head. I look for a place to run again, but this time he’s ready and blocks the only exit.
“The people of this world have built and ripped their culture apart in an endless cycle of anger, Thomas. Though our race must be thousands of years old, we have a mere seven hundred years worth of historical records that managed to survive our own barbarism. Our past is replete with civil wars, and the only thing we ever seemed to learn from them was how to wage a better one the next time around.”
“I know nothing of this.”
His brow furrows. “What do you know of the past?”
I think, but very soon my thoughts blur. There’s just a haze when I try to recall anything that happened before the Drossan. I can’t even remember reading a schoolbook about it. In fact, I cannot remember ever being interested in who and what we were before the alien invasion.
I look at him in puzzlement and shake my head.
“It’s not your fault. You underwent the procedure, just like everyone else who remains in the cities and believe in the Seers.”
I flinch at this. “What procedure?”
“A mind wipe, if you will. It was rediscovered technology, you see. We are a far more advanced society today than at other points in our history; but at one point, eras ago, we could do things that were almost godlike. That period was lost to yet another wave of self-destruction. That fact depresses me the most. Even at our greatest, we were subsumed by our lowest instincts. The devices were discovered by an archaeologist. They were originally thought to treat mental disorders. Your father turned it into something quite different.”
Carl Drossan sighs. “We were on the verge of another collapse. Even in our known history, factions and partisanship had never been so extreme. With the technology we had developed on our own, this war might have wiped civilization. Your father and a small group of men in positions of power decided to use the rediscovered technology to save us. The plan was implemented in secret, over months, in medical facilities.”
He tells me everything. How there was a legendary past when our people lived in extended peace, guided by Seers who foresaw the future and made the decisions necessary to sustain peace. Their word was law, for who could argue with people who knew the future? My father and many others obsessed over the idea of using the technology to make that legend real. People would have the belief put into their heads.
Whether they wanted it or not.
“And the traitors?”
Carl Drossan chuckles. “To your father, a traitor is just anyone who disagrees with him. Yet he is a brilliant man in his own naïve, hypocritical way.”
I grit my teeth. “My father isn’t a hypocrite.”
“You don’t think he actually submitted to the procedure himself, do you? Oh, no. He and the Chief Seers of the other cities remember everything as it was. They keep themselves safely in the center of their scheme, trying to convince a civilization of wolves that they are actually sheep. Far from being a traitor, I was nearly his accomplice. Yes, I almost joined them, seduced by the idea of being one of the elect shepherds. But there was a price to pay, a price Michael Odeilik and the others did not find nearly as steep as I did. Families could not be spared. I didn’t have children, but I was married. I couldn’t sleep, thinking of my wife emptied out and filled with a false religion. That’s why I exposed the plan. By that time, though, its implementation was well under way. Only a few thousand from the various cities managed to join us in the wastelands. In revenge, your father made me the godfather of a mythical alien invasion, a little invention of his to justify the world’s sad state and explain our presence. And of course the hunting parties weed us out while channeling the native aggressions of the people.”
“You expect me to accept this without evidence?”
“Aren’t your resurfacing memories proof enough?”
“You have Michael’s stubbornness. Come with me.”
He leads me to another room full of strange equipment. All of it looks old and weathered yet also otherworldly.
“What is this? Did the aliens leave these things behind when we beat them?”
For the first time, Carl Drossan looks angry with me. His face flushes red and he catches himself swearing.
“Open your eyes, Thomas, and see. These are artifacts from a past civilization—our own.”
I look around again. As I do, Carl Drossan picks up a black helmet and holds it out to me. I freeze, breathless. A new wave of images crowd my mind.
“This is familiar to you?”
I nod, almost sobbing. “Someone is placing it on my head.”
“It is probably your father.”
“A voice . . . a voice says it will only take a few minutes.”
“Perhaps in your case it should have been left on a bit longer. Imagine how happy you would be if the procedure had worked properly. You would be home right now, standing in the temple with all of the other lesser Seers who, like you, were programmed to see and relay visions of goodness and light.”
“But I’d be ignorant of the truth!”
Carl Drossan steps closer, still holding the helmet in his hands. “So you do believe what I have told you?”
I look down at my feet. “I thought I was . . . defective.”
He laughs. “Unfortunately the only thing defective here is this device. A spy gave his life to get it to me, but it’s unfortunately broken.” Scowling, he takes the helmet and jams it onto his head. “If only it could operate!”
“I want to know exactly how the procedure works. If only I’d paid better attention when your father was explaining it. If only I’d listened.”
“Then you’d know how to defeat it?”
There’s a pause as he considers his answer. He sets the helmet down with a rueful smile. “Yes,” he says.
There’s talk about what to do with me. Some of Carl Drossan’s men want to keep me as a hostage. Others say holding a Seer is far too dangerous. I am not allowed to speak. In the end it is Drossan himself who decides my fate. I am to be returned to the place of the ambush. Drossan says he will take me there himself, alone. The many protests against this plan fail to sway him.
We return to where his party attacked us. In the east the distant spires of Almindor shimmer like an illusion. The bodies of the hunting party remain scattered in the sand. Carrion feast on the remains with a lazy, selective hunger. Richter looks no less intimidating without his eyes. Carl Drossan grimaces at the sight of the corpses.
“You’re not used to seeing death?” I say.
“Oh, how patronizing you sound. How jaded and mature. I am quite used to death—and quite tired of it. Death has wearied me past your comprehension.”
The tone of his voice becomes hollow and the muscles in his face slacken. Something inside of me, some flickering fire of loneliness responds to it like fuel.
“Someone you love died.”
His expression of surprise lasts only a moment. Then he smiles. “Perhaps you have more insight than you know, Thomas. The genuine ability to see into another’s heart is worth a thousand glimpses into the future. Yes, someone I loved died. My wife—four months ago.”
“Was she . . . killed?”
“It was a disease. There wasn’t the proper medicine to save her.”
He began to shake before he finished speaking, and the last few words are almost lost in the depths of his sorrow. I reach out to him automatically, not knowing what else to do. We are alone with the dead and the memory of the dead, and I wish he hadn’t insisted on bringing me here unescorted. He seemed suddenly frail to me, as if he could not possibly survive in the wastelands by himself.
“You should go back,” I say. “Every man and woman in Almindor would turn out if they thought a Seer was captured. They’d torture you in their outrage.”
He laughs and shakes his head. “I suppose your insight only goes so far. Don’t you see that’s exactly what I want?”
“With my wife dead, I’m left with little to feel and even less to fight for.”
“The truth isn’t enough?”
“What about all the people back there in the desert who trust you to lead them? You’ll be betraying them if you surrender.”
“Not surrender. Be captured.”
“And you can live with that?”
“But that’s just it, Thomas. I won’t live with any of this. The memory of the desert and my wife will be gone. The pain will be done.”
I back away, stumbling over the body of a hunter. But I don’t fall. “You mean you want to go through the procedure now? You want the lie?”
“I’m in such despair without my wife. She kept me going.”
I shake my head in disbelief. “You called my father a hypocrite, but you’re the hypocrite!”
“We all are in some way.”
“And the broken device you have, that cost a man his life. All because you thought you could just put the helmet on your head as soon as you had it.”
“But this way is better,” he says. “By capturing me, you get to return to Almindor a hero, a Seer beyond anyone’s question or doubt.”
“Don’t act like you’re sacrificing yourself for me! What about the people back there in the wasteland? What will happen to them when they discover their leader secretly wanted the delusion all along?”
“They won’t. I’ll be a martyr. I’m better off to them as a symbol.”
“You’re a self-serving, deluded old man.”
He laughs once again. “No, Thomas. I’m an old man who’s lived too long without delusions. I’m ready for their comfort now.”
Carl Drossan is right about the effect his capture has on my own reputation. I receive a hero’s welcome in every corner of Almindor. My father’s pride in me is eclipsed only by his evident thrill at having his former friend and adversary in his power. There is a private trial in the temple in which Carl Drossan is charged with being the primary conspirator with the aliens against our cities. Throughout it all I cannot help but study the faces of the other Seers, wondering how they do not in the slightest question the fact that this traitor and the aliens have the same name. It as if they are not hearing the same words I am. The one word we all agree on, in the end, is the fate we sentence to the man. Death. When it’s my turn to speak, I talk directly into the fire and don’t look at Drossan’s horror-struck face. It never occurred to him that my father would demand his execution. It never occurred to me either until the moment we all had to pronounce his sentence and I was trapped into being an accomplice in his murder.
In the ensuing weeks, I function as best I can, no longer troubled by memories of the dark past. The present is black enough. In the mornings I am still a Seer of the Hunt. In the temple, I continue to lie with even greater skill and imagination. I see a long and glorious sunrise that scorches the land. I see terrific floods of cleansing rain.
In the mirror, I see a coward. Sometimes I stare into my own eyes and relive my part in the trial of Carl Drossan. I keep thinking I’ll have the courage to say something different. But I say, “Death” every time.
Then one morning, five months after the trial, a hooded man comes up to me and kneels as I pass near the temple. He grabs my hand and says, “Thank you, Seer, for your visions of prosperity. They give me and my wife so much hope!”
The hood falls back. For a moment his face looks like Carl Drossan’s. But it is just some other old man possessed by the illusions Drossan wanted.
The illusions I help spread.
Staring at him, possessed by a meanness I should direct at myself, I say, “Your wife will die of disease.”
The shadow of doom blights his face and he clutches my robes. “Please, Seer, please tell me you do not foresee such a tragedy for my beloved!”
Crying, I jerk free of him. “What do you want to be told? That death does not exist? That sadness is a myth?”
“But I have heard the Seers’ visions read aloud. The long sunshine—”
I strike him. This single blow uncorks a torrent of violence and disgust within me. I kick and stomp him, wishing it could be Carl Drossan. Wishing, in a greater sense, it could be myself. I deserve no less for my duplicity.
A strong hand grips my arm and spins me. It is my father. He drags me away, off the street and into the otherwise empty temple. He shakes me once, peering in to my eyes. When I grin at him, he slaps my face.
“You sentenced Carl Drossan to die.”
“Of course. It is my duty as Chief Seer.”
“You made me sentence him to die.”
Father nods. “You also did your duty as a Seer.”
“But he was once your friend.”
We stare at each other. Realization lights my father’s eyes.
“Thomas, you can’t believe anything Drossan told you. He was a liar.”
“He was worse than that. He was a coward. And when I saw that man groveling in the streets to me, I knew I was a coward too. I’m just like Carl.”
“You’re not a traitor like he was. Drossan sided with the aliens—”
“There were no aliens!”
He pulls back, head turned to the right, almost looking at me askance. “What did you say? I reiterate, anything Drossan told you—”
“He didn’t tell me anything I haven’t seen for myself. In here.” I touch my head.
“You know?” he says, the words barely audible.
“Know. Remember. Call it what you will.”
He seems almost breathless as he shakes me by the shoulders. “You have your memories?”
I grin at him, flushed with fear and a savage triumph. “I recall everything. It seems the procedure failed with me, Father.”
“How could it have failed? How long have you known?”
“Long enough to realize I want no part in this lie.”
“It’s not a lie, not if you believe. Thomas, I can correct your problem. I can—”
“What? Inject visions into my head?”
“The same kind of vision that will, through you and the office of the Seers, keep people in a state of hope.”
“They don’t need a lie!”
“They do,” he says, his grip softening. “I used to think like you did. I thought what was needed wasn’t some hopeful expectation of the future, but an uncompromising stare at the past. Now I know that all our history shows one thing: that those who remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”
He holds his hand out to me. I just stare at it.
“I know I can’t escape you,” I say. "But I think if you try to do the procedure on me again, it will still fail. What happens to me if it does? Will you kill me?”
“I’m a hard man,” he says, but his voice is soft.
“I’m going to go, Father. Out into the desert with the others. It’s where I belong.”
“What will you do? Try to overthrow the peace?”
“No. Just live, day to day. Maybe that’s the only way to forget the past. Focus on the now.”
“What about your mother?”
The question freezes me. At last I say, “Could you . . . make her forget me.”
My father smirks. “Hyopcrite.”
“I’m my father’s son.”
I step toward the temple door. My father does not move.
“The hunting parties will continue, Thomas. If I lead one that encounters you . . . do you think I won’t fire?”
“I know that you will.”
“Then goodbye, Thomas.”
I leave him and the temple behind. My pace quickens as I head away from Almindor and into the wastelands. The day is so bright my eyes hurt from seeing.
Originally from Kentucky, Sean Eads is a writer and librarian living in Denver, CO. His first novel, The Survivors, was published in 2012 by Lethe Press. His writing has either appeared or is slated to appear in a variety of places, including the Journal of Popular Culture, Shock Totem, Stupefying Stories, Pseudopod and the forthcoming anthologies Once Upon an Apocalypse and Shambling Through History. Sean workshops his fiction regularly in a small writer's group led by Nebula Award winner Ed Bryant. When not writing or working, he tries to develop his golf game. You can find him online through Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sean.eads.14.