“See? It’s not a real gun, it’s a toy gun!”

Those words were the last words spoken to me by Tobias Vaudeville, sometimes known as Toby, but more often called “Telly” because of his initials.

This scene only took seconds, but it will be with me, well, who knows. Toby was seven years old and I was five. We had found a mysterious box while exploring the upper regions of my father’s closet, the places most compelling to young explorers, the places that were mistakenly thought of as naturally out of reach and therefore safe for storing secret objects, like firearms.

Telly has continued to visit me but I only know about a few special occasions. There was the time we got lost while exploring the basement of Shoelick’s department store and was accidentally locked in overnight. That turned out better in the end, when we got our picture in the paper and a gift certificate. All I had to do was say I was that I was only looking for the bathroom, but really I was following Telly. Or he was following me.

There was the time I found a real dead body in the woods, when I thought I was running away from home. Telly told me what to do, which lead to the arrest of the McLaughlin brothers. They said a lot of bad things and tried their best to frighten me into keeping quiet, but that is all over with now and they are locked up tight, far away.

There was the time we borrowed the family car and nearly, well, let’s not talk about that one.

Right now I need Tobias Vaudeville more than ever. I am hanging upside-down in a well. I can hear squeaking rats massing down below. I am hiding from some kids who have been burning down neighborhoods where there are supposed to be atheists. They hate atheists. I jumped in the well without knowing how deep it is or what is at the bottom, at the time it was the better option. Now that the sun has come up I can see a little bit better down here. When I look upwards, past my feet, I can see the sky. When I jumped down here it was night and those kids were just crazy, burning houses and pulling people out of cars to murder them.

My backpack is stuck on something, my feet are pointed to the round light above me, below me its dark and I can hear squeaking and motion, and water below me. What deals might I make to get myself facing the right direction, or better yet, to be delivered from this disadvantage that I find myself in? Presumably those kids up there have the answer. None of them saw me jump in here, which could be to my advantage.

On the other hand, if they did see me I might be able to convince them of my belief in their God. Of course, I would not have jumped if I shared that belief in the first place. Its just that at the time they were not in a temperament for discussion and reasonable discussion, they were killing atheists and I was available. As for my atheism, I have not come to any major conclusions yet, so its possible that they could be making a big mistake by killing me.

It appears that I am going to have to solve my own problems.

What would Telly do? A face would appear peering from the circle of light above, down into my darkness. A rope would be lowered, and a rescue would be made. Or the backpack would slip and I would become a warm but brief meal for the creatures below.

That was ten years ago. The biggest change was the borders put up within what was the United States. Now there is Voree and The Outlands; or from this perspective, the Forbidden Lands and the United States. The curious thing is that all the news is about the sports tournaments. There is a war, and all the news is about Cleveland vs Toronto followed by Oakland against Boston. Lots of interviews with the coaches, and the thunder of artillery that nobody acknowledges.

Parts of the city are dangerous, parts are forgotten and ignored. Most people have left, there are various displaced person’s camps in the smaller towns, usually in a school gymnasium. Family groups are bivouacked there, often for months before they are moved to other locations, new multiplexes. The men are conscripted and the women raise the children. The wounded men leave the hospitals and some find work, but most are cared for by the women as a part time job. Its unpaid labor, but they get fed and they get a place to sleep.

My travels take me further, there is danger everywhere, but going to new places seems to bring me comfort. I walk at night because the roads are more dangerous during the day. I keep a look out for whatever is approaching and whatever is following me. Frequently I abandon the road and take cover in the silent brush, allowing for the unknown to resolve its own difficulties, without my participation. There are highwaymen who frequent the open stretches, seeking to grab whatever they can from whomever they come upon.