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Story 1

Lou Antonelli

Lou Antonelli is an amazingly prolific and talented Texas science fiction writer.

Lou got a late start in his fiction writing career; his first story was published when he was 46 years old in June 2003. His first professional sale was "A Rocket for the Republic", published in Asimov's Science Fiction in September 2005.

His Texas-themed reprint collection "Fantastic Texas" was published in 2009 and another collection, "Texas & Other Planets", was published by the Merry Blacksmith Press in 2010. Yard Dog Press in 2011 published his chapbook collection of four collaboration stories with Portland, Oregon-based author Ed Morris, "Music for Four Hands".

Lou is currently the managing editor of the Mount Pleasant, TX Daily Tribune.

Lou is a frequent contributor to 4StarStories, a trend that shows no sign of abating. This issue features another Texas-themed story.

They say good things come in small packages, but if they had known about "nanos", they wouldn't have said that. Join Lou in a trip to the near future where what you can't see can ruin your whole civilization.






By Lou Antonelli

“It reminds me of a cemetery.”

Morey stood up and brushed back a lock of his gray hair. “How so? This doesn’t look anything like the cemetery in Zion.”

Kimberly shaded her eyes with the flat of her hand as she looked around. “One of the old cemeteries. You know, the ones with the stones that stick up in the weeds.” She banged her stave on top of a concrete doorstep.

The old man saw what she meant. The steps stuck up at regular intervals in the scrub, where the homes had stood--how long ago?

He looked at the teenager and smiled. “You’re right,” he said. “I see it too.”

She smiled at him and resumed picking through the pile.

Morey could tell from the absence of charred wood that this addition had simply crumbled over the years. Spikes of silvery weathered wood stuck up from the weeds where the homes had been. Rusted pipes poked up occasionally like punctuation marks to a history gone wrong. Brown rectangular shapes marked the rusted remains of household appliances.

Kim pulled her bonnet forward and tightened the drawstring without looking up. “I know the heat’s bothering you. You can rest under that tree.”

Morey pulled off his straw hat and briefly fanned his face. “That’s okay, kid. I can still take it. I just have to go slower.”

She smiled and kept scavenging. The West Texas dryness had preserved many small items that otherwise would have crumbled or rusted away long ago. Morey used his stave to turn over a flat piece of incongruously shiny metal.

“Aluminum,” he thought.

Beneath he found a box that was deeply impacted in the hard-packed red clay dirt. He could tell from the nearby pattern of wood impressions that the aluminum was probably part of ductwork that once ran beneath the floor of a home.

Kim saw him bending painfully at the knees. “What is it, dear?”

He looked up. “A box. Probably was under the floor of this house. It’s solid in the dirt.”

“I’m coming.”

Morey poked at it a few more times, but the box wouldn’t budge. Kim picked her away past the scrap and scrub, and stopped next to him. The box was two feet long and a foot wide. She kneeled down and began to pry around its edges with a rusted garden trowel. The lid came loose.

She pried it open with her small fingers. They both looked down. Kim leaned in closer and peered. “Nothing but brown dust.” Morey sniffed. “Cannabis. Even after 200 years, it still reeks.” He squinted. “Is that dust covering something?”

Kim reached down and pressed her hand through the layer of dust. She pulled out a gray disk.

“Just more of their useless steel money,” she said.

Morey reached down and she handed him a coin. He looked at it briefly and then buffed it briskly against his pants leg.

He held it up. It glinted in the sun. She looked at him quizzically and stood up.

He handed it back to her. “This is real silver. I rubbed some of the tarnish off.” She handed back the silver dollar and got back down on her knees again. She began to dig with determination until she worked the box free.

She lifted it out of the clay and tipped it over. Dozens of the grayish disks scattered on the brown grass.

Morey patted her on the shoulder. “Good job.” She began to grab the coins and throw them into her gunnysack. “We can do a lot with real silver,” he said.

After she finished, he took her other sack. “Those dollars are heavier than all the rest put together,” he said. “I’ll carry our two sacks. You carry the silver dollars.”

He tied both his and her sack to his rope belt and grasped his stave. “Great job. A day well spent.”

Kim looked to the west. “The sun will set in two hours,” she said. “Time for the old man to limp home.”

He knuckled her head. “Show some respect for your elders!”


The sun was a red semi-circle on the horizon as they walked down what had once been the main street of the West Texas city. They walked through their crops, which surrounded the ruins of the county courthouse. Browser came out from his favorite hole, tail wagging. Morey ruffled the yellow hound dog’s floppy ears.

“Hey, boy, keep the rabbits and crows away today?”

A quick sniff told the dog there was nothing to interest him in Kim’s sack. He sniffed and then nudged Morey’s. Kim laughed.

“He can tell you have that plastic ball,” she said.

Morey reached in and pulled out a bright orange hollow plastic ball that a child hundreds of years ago had stolen from the playground of a fast food restaurant and promptly lost at home. “Here you go, boy,” he said as he lobbed the ball into the tall corn.

At the edge of the field they walked downwards to reach the door of the old building where they lived. After hundreds of years of overgrowth, the ground level was now two feet higher than the floor inside. Above on the concrete, the letters still clearly said “Eldorado State Bank”.

Kim took a home-dipped candle from a wooden shelf and lit it with an ember from the fire. After she placed the candle in a holder--a broken porcelain cup that read “…hate Mondays”--she drew a pail of water from a wooden barrel and then filled a pot and set it to boil on the coals she stirred into flames.

Morey pulled aside the mat that covered the hole in the ground they called a “frij” and took out a handful of small red potatoes. He sat down on a rough-hewn three-legged stool and took a blade from his pocket.

“I’ll skin the spuds,” he said, “while you put the goods up.”

Kim dropped the sack full of silver dollars on the floor and opened up the two gunny sacks Morey had left on the table. From the first she pulled out a rusty handgun, a socket wrench, a half dozen glass bottles and jars, and the head of a cast iron fireplace poker.

She opened Morey’s sack and found three large books printed on slick paper that had resisted crumbling into dust. They were all a light orange-- originally a bright red--and said “World Book Encyclopedia”.

“Always a seeker of knowledge, old man,” she said with a smile.

“I have all the beauty in the world,” he said, “all I have left to seek is knowledge.”

She walked over to where he sat, leaned over, and kissed his cheek. “You are such a good husband.”

She stroked his cheek. “When will we be truly man and wife?”

He pulled her hand away, gently. “When you are 16.” He kissed the back of her hand. “Otherwise, all I have said would be a lie.” He tapped his forefinger on the tip of her nose. “Patience, little one. Only four more months.”

She sighed and returned to the table, which centuries earlier had been a bank counter. “You’re right, as usual, Mr. Montgomery.”

“You’re as understanding as always, Mrs. Montgomery.”

She dusted off the old books with a hand-woven cloth. “You’ve always kept your word. When we left Zion, you promised we would have a real house.”

“I knew out here there would still be a few buildings left intact,” he said. “and there was certainly no one out here to displace.”

He saw her twinge. “I know you were afraid because of the stories of marauders. You were brave to believe me, and not the Elders.”

“Again, you were right,” she said. “We’ve never met anyone out here.”

“There were marauders for a short while after the devastation,” he said. “But no one’s survived outside Zion for decades.”

He plopped the last potato into the bubbling pot and smacked the dust from his hands. “Except us.”

“I guess that’s why we never caught the plague,” she said. “Because it was a disease. There is no one to catch it from.”

“Yes, it was such a horrible disease, it killed everyone who it touched,” he said.

When they first came to the ruins of “Drado”, the old city closest to Zion, and began to scavenge for artifacts to make their isolated existence easier, they occasionally found human remains. The bones of plague victims were scattered with shiny, glass-like flakes--Morey said they needed to give those remains a wide berth, in case any plague remained.

Kim carried one of the heavy books to Morey. “Look here, someone put a piece of--what do you call it, newspaper?--inside the pages!” She handed him the “B” volume of the encyclopedia, open to the entry for “Black Death”.

He took it in his two hands. “I haven’t seen a piece of newspaper in years. They were very hard to save; the paper was cheap and crumbled to dust.”

The newsprint was yellow but still flexible. The name at the top of the page read “Dallas Morning News”. The date was Nov. 10, 2020.

Kim stood behind him and looked over his shoulder. “Nano plague ravages nation,” she said. “What’s a ‘nano’?”

Morey rubbed the gray stubble on his chin. “Dear God, it was true.”

“What was true?”

Morey read the page, following with his finger almost, but not quite, touching the page. “It was caused by man’s own arrogance.”

He looked up. “This story is invaluable. It explains what was happening, what was going on at the time.”

She leaned on his shoulder to read, sounding out the words syllable by syllable. “Medical-cyber hybrid nanovirus spreads uncontrolled.”

“I’m so proud you read so well,” he said.

“I’m proud you taught me so well,” she said. “But I don’t know what it means.”

“I’ll explain,” he said. “These men then were arrogant; they wanted to live forever. Their science made machines to repair the body, to keep it whole forever. They were called nanos, and they were so small they could be put into the blood.”

“That’s hard to believe,” she said.

“It’s true. You know there are things that are too small to be seen, but can grow. Just like yeast in bread,” he said. “The old Americans put these nanos in their bodies.”

He continued to read. “So that’s what happened. It’s a little hard for me to understand--no living man has seen these things--but they also had machines they used to send and receive music and pictures through the air. Some people put small ones in their bodies, into their heads.”

“That’s an abomination,” said Kim. “Defiling the image of God in man.”

“From what I can see here, they also had nanos for their machines, and what it says here is that the nanos to treat people combined with the nanos to repair machines. The bastard hybrid became the plague.”

“Why would that kill people, if it was supposed to repair them?” asked Kim.

“That’s what these people here were trying to learn, as they died,” said Morey. “It says the best they could tell, the plague tried to repair people as if they were broken machines. That’s what killed them.”

“Is that why, when we find the bones and clothes of old ones, they have those shiny sprinkles of glass on them?”

Morey covered his mouth and chin with his hand. “Silicon. Glass. The nanos tried to convert the people into machines. That’s why they died.”

“It must have been horrible,” she said. “I wonder what the person who put this newspaper in the book must have been thinking.”

“Probably that it was the end of the world, and it was,” said Morey. “Look.” In the margin, someone had written in ink, “Last issue. Goodbye, world!”

They looked up as they heard a whine. Browser came in, a dead pheasant in his jaws. He sat down near the fire and began to tear at the feathers. “Smart dog,” said Morey. “It is time for dinner.”


The sun had just cleared the horizon the next morning when Browser began barking loudly and aggressively outside their home. Morey reached for the rifle on the wall.

“We have visitors.”

Kim pulled a dress on as she heard a horse whinny. She walked into the doorway and saw Morey on the edge of the field, rifle leveled.

She walked behind him with her own rifle, and saw a lone horseman across the field. Her loose, yellow hair fluttered in the breeze. “Who is it?”

“I think it’s Elder McMurphy,” he called back.

A rather pudgy, older man with a flowing salt and pepper beard rode a bay horse past the ruined courthouse and towards the couple. He raised a hand in salutation.

“Brother Montgomery, I would talk with you.”

Morey looked past the man. On the flat West Texas prairie, he could have seen anyone else for miles.

“You’re welcome to our hospitality, Brother McMurphy--if you remain hospitable.”

He called to Browser. “It’s okay, boy.”

McMurphy tied his horse’s reins to the remains of a galvanized traffic light post. “You look well, Morey.”

“It’s been a hard life, but we’ve coped,” he said.

“The way of the heretic is hard,” said McMurphy with a ramshackle smile. “You are still welcome to repent and return to Zion.” He pulled a small cloth bag from his coat pocket. “I brought a peace offering. Some ground coffee.”

Morey nodded to Kim. “Go put some water on to boil.”

“You will not invite me into your home, then?” asked McMurphy.

Morey turned to face his visitor. “What do you want, James?”

McMurphy sighed. “Blunt as always. I want--we want--you to come back.”

“Of course you do, and take two more children as wives,” said Morey. “You know my answer.”

He sat down on a chunk of concrete. “You need me, because I was good at keeping the windmills and pumps running.”

McMurphy cleared himself a spot and sat. “True, but we have considered the matter. We are not willing to have you come back to live in Zion, if you refuse to repent,” he said.

“But…” He raised a dirty finger. “We have a living arrangement to propose.”

“A compromise? That’s hard to believe,” said Morey.

“Don’t be so proud. The pumps and windmills are running quite well, thank you. We are thinking of your welfare.”

“My wife”--he emphasized the singular--“and I are doing quite well, thank you, too.”

“Couldn’t you do as well near Zion--near, but not of, Zion? Instead of living in the ruins of this heathen city?”

“Among the Lost Boys? They have no dispute with the Prophet. You have simply forced them out because there are not enough wives to go around. If they could, they would have as many wives as anyone.”

He chuckled sardonically. “They drink and fight and kill each other. They have nothing to do and no place to go.”

“The Council of Elders had reconciled themselves to the fact you have left the fold. If we cannot be brothers, then perhaps we should at least be friends.”

“That’s ridiculous. You are just trying to lure me back where I can be dealt with.”

McMurphy began to open his mouth to protest, but Kim came back outside. “Water’s boiling.”

Morey took the small cloth sack from McMurphy’s hand. “Put the coffee in to boil,” he said. He nodded to McMurphy. “We might as well go inside.”

After Kim poured the coffee into two ancient ceramic mugs. McMurphy took a sip and raised his eyebrows. “Sugar? My goodness, you are resourceful.”

“Not sugar,” said Kim. “It’s called sucra-loose.”

Morey smiled. “It’s a powder called sucralose. We found it in a sealed container in the remains of a school.”

“Do you enjoy scavenging through the ruins of heathen America like a prairie dog?” asked McMurphy. “If you come back and live near Zion, you will be living with your own kind, not with coyotes and rattlesnakes.”

Kim turned away from the two men. “We have each other, and that is enough,” said Morey. “Monogamy was the basis of a great civilization.”

The Elder plunked his cup down rather heavily on the table. “Great civilization! All they did was defy God, fornicate and take drink and drugs! Monogamy! You’ve read the old records. Almost none of them married!”

“Yes, I’ve heard the old joke, it must be 200 years old,’ said Morey. “Each Saint had to marry at least three wives, to make up for the heathen who never married.”

He turned serious. “Yes, they ruined their civilization--by the end. But they had a great nation for hundreds of years.”

McMurphy jutted his jaw. “God preserved us because we follow his law and live as the elders of the Bible.”

“God preserved Zion because it was cut off from the world when the plague struck,” said Morey.

“Maybe that was God’s plan, then,” said McMurphy.

“If it is God’s will, then, he should strike us down, too.” snarled Morey.

There was a loud crash. Kim had dropped a glass jar she was cleaning. They turned to see her startled expression. Morey jumped up and clasped her as she began to sob.

“I’m sorry, dear, I shouldn’t say that” he said. “It is prideful of me.”

McMurphy stood up. “We allowed you this sweet wife you requested, and this is how you treat her, putting her soul in peril and scaring her to death!” He put his hat back on and walked towards the door. “Any time, child, you want to return to Zion, we will take you back and find you a proper husband!”

McMurphy stopped in the door. “You went mad from grief, Montgomery. Don’t make this woman suffer…”

“She’s not a woman!” Morey shouted.

“Bad luck has driven you insane! To lose the three wives given you at manhood--and to have no children--we thought to give you three more wives, you would recover. To have a second chance of a family. Instead you fled into the desert with your first new wife…”

Morey reached for his rifle. “Leave now!”

McMurphy sighed. “May God have mercy on you both.”

Morey glared at the doorway long after McMurphy left and the sound of hoof beats faded.


Both of them ate in silence afterwards. Morey sipped coffee.

Kim broke the silence. “Elder McMurphy mentioned your first wives. Why do you never speak of them. Were you unhappy?”

He grimaced. “No, it’s just painful to remember. They were all good women, given to me by the Old Prophet, McCamey, forty years ago, when I came of age.”

He took a deep breath. “Lindy was very sweet, and very pretty. Black-headed with big, dark eyes. She worked hard--too hard. One summer she came down with heat stroke after working in the field. We couldn’t save her.”

“Marcella was blonde and blue eyed, like you. You remind me a lot of her. She died of a fever ten years ago. I think the disease was caused by a mosquito bite.” He continued.

“Jerri was short and quiet. She was not very intelligent. I told her to boil the water after the cholera struck, but she didn’t believe me. She died six years ago.”

He sipped his coffee. “After each one died, I missed her, and always thought that I should have spent more time with her. That’s when I had the insight that I was more comfortable having one wife.”

She smiled. “You are very good to me. Why didn’t you have any children?”

“We tried, but they were always stillborn. It’s probably what was called inbreeding, by the old people, the Americans. You’ve seen it in Zion, the Blakeney boys with their extra fingers and toes, the Collum girl with the split face. We’ve been marrying amongst ourselves for hundreds of years now.”

“After we are truly man and wife, we will try ourselves,” he said as he stood up. “It’s time to sleep.”

He kissed her cheek. “Good night, my child.”


It was early morning and still dark. Browser began to bark furiously and aggressively. Then a shot rang out, followed by a yelp.

“Raiders!” Morey called out as he jumped from bed and grabbed his rife. Kim reached over to a table and threw him a handgun, and grabbed her own rifle.

Morey yanked the door open and started shooting before he went through. Kim ran up behind him.

The hail of bullets he sent ahead of him scattered the raiders who would have stormed the entrance had it not been for Browser’s diligence. Morey peered out carefully and saw a half dozen young men on horseback, holding torches.

“Leave, there is no other way in,” he called out. “We have nothing of value!”

He turned his head and spoke to Kim. “They look like the Lost Boys.”

One rider goaded his horse forward. “We want the silver!”

Morey cursed under his breath. “We’re fools! We left the silver in plain view when Elder McMurphy was here. He must have spoken of it back at Waiting for Zion.”

Kim clutched Morey’s shoulder. “Let them have it, we have all we need.”

Morey nodded. “Dismount and come, we will let you have it, if you go in peace.” He nodded backwards and Kim turned to get the sacks.

“Agreed,” called the foremost horsemen as he slipped off his saddle. The young man let his rifle slide to the ground and raised his hands as he walked forward.

He walked slowly and steadily forward. Morey noticed his gaze dart off to the side. He realized someone was sneaking up to the entrance from the side.

“Kim!” he called as a shot rang out. She ran to him as the Lost Boy crumpled to the ground. Morey looked at her. “I didn’t shoot!”

The others turned their horses around. “Someone has come up from behind,” said Morey.

They both stepped out of the entrance and began firing. Caught in the crossfire, the Lost Boys were killed quickly.

Morey stepped forward, rifle trained on the bodies on the ground in case they were only wounded. A half-dozen men led by Elder McMurphy rode up.

McMurphy dismounted. “I’m glad we got here in time,” he said. “Although we have our disagreements, I do not wish you dead!”

He walked up to Morey and clasped him by the shoulder. “It was my fault. I mentioned that I saw the silver when I returned, and word leaked out to the Lost Boys.”

The other members of the posse gathered around. “When we saw the Lost Boys leave in your direction,” said McMurphy, “I knew what happened.”

“We are grateful,” said Morey to the assembled men.

“Why did you speak of our silver?” asked Kim.

Another man spoke up. “Elder McMurphy said you seemed to be doing well, and perhaps--if you would not return to Waiting for Zion--we could send some of the better young men who live outside the walls to live with you, and start a new settlement.”

McMurphy looked around. “We seemed to have killed the worst of the lot.”

“To trade for supplies to start a new settlement,” said Kim. “That would be a good use for the silver.”

“You can live as you please,” said McMurphy. “You could be an elder of your own kind to these young men.”

A member of the posse spoke up. “We have agreed to find a few wives. Some of us will give up a wife, to help start the settlement.”

Kim looked to see the sun rising from the flat West Texas horizon. “It is morning,” she said. “Would you have some coffee?”

Elder McMurphy smiled. “That’s a wonderful idea.”

“It’s a new day, in more ways than one,” said Morey. “What should we call our new settlement?”

“How about, ‘Children of Zion’?” asked Kim.

There were murmurs of affirmation from the posse.

“We will take the bodies and return to Waiting for Zion, and begin to gather provisions,” said McMurphy.

“I will give you the silver to pay for the purchases,” said Morey.

Kim leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “A down payment on a new city,” she said.

“Your betrothed seems to be quite a young lady,” said McMurphy.

“You men have work to do,” said Kim, “I will start the coffee.”

She smiled as she went inside. “And maybe a new world, too.”

(The End)



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