John Carter finds himself in a harsh and desolate land populated by strange and inhuman creatures! He is taken captive by the Green Martians and despairs of ever seeing another like himself again until an airship crashes, shot down by his captors!
I awoke as from sleep in an ungainly heap
and, like Adam, unclothed and alone
yet no Eden was there, but a desert as bare
as the West where I’d fled from my home.
For a moment I thought that delirium brought
the uncanny events of the night
and perhaps I had lain, overwrought and half-sane
and come back to myself at first light.
I could barely suppose I had lost my own clothes
and I somehow obscured Jim’s grave
but I saw I was wrong, for the mountains were gone
and my argument couldn’t be saved.
I remembered with dread all the things that I’d said
and I wondered if God had declared
that because of my wrong I would have to live on
after no other mortal was spared.
And perhaps a new Flood or a taint in the blood
had wiped out all the Earth while I slept
so that I could atone with a lifetime alone.
And, believing my theory, I wept.
Then it also occurred that God may not have heard
and the truth may have been more mundane:
that I merely was lying unconscious and dying
while fever-dreams flashed through my brain.
Though each subsequent guess caused me greater distress
they were nothing to what I would see
for wherever I’d landed was far from abandoned
yet held not one human but me.
Over bare broken ground they made hardly a sound
as they moved on six powerful limbs.
There was no one at all less than twenty feet tall
and no face was not hateful and grim.
I attempted to flee. They were faster than me
and they ran me to ground in a mile.
They were nimble as hounds as they circled around
and they made not a noise all the while.
I had ranted at God. I had called him a fraud
I had dared him to come from above.
Now I swore to behave like a groveling slave
as I pleaded my loyalty and love.
It is true what they say: when a man is at bay
he remembers the whole of his life.
I remembered the day when I’d put on the gray
and each day of the following strife.
I remembered before the events of the war
and I had a most terrible thought
of the people that we had kept chained and unfree
of the souls we had auctioned and bought.
For the slave, black or brown, kept his eyes to the ground
and he put on humility’s veil
but the face underneath, like a sword in its sheath
told who saw it the opposite tale.
There was never a slave, whether craven or brave
whether bonded to mansion or plough
had a face didn’t show all the pain that they owe
like the faces that looked at me now.
The unparalleled face of an alien race
with no feature of commonplace kind
but each pupil-less eye, I could scarcely deny
brought an ominous thought to my mind:
That behind those black coals were the newly-housed souls
of black children and women and men
who had suffered and died under folk such as I
and perhaps this was Heaven for them.
But whatever my crime, it was not yet the time
for my soul’s heavy debt to be paid
and perhaps each fell face hid a measure of grace
for their fangs and their talons were stayed.
But if they could forgive and allow me to live
they would not let me go on my way.
Not a one of them talked, but a gesture said, “Walk!”
and I saw naught to do but obey.
So they drove me along at the heart of the throng
never stopping for water or sleep
at my front and my back like a vigilant pack
herding one disobedient sheep.
At the end of our trek we arrived at the wreck
of a city, half-drowned by the sand
Though the doorways and stairs were my size and not theirs
it was no more a dwelling of Man.
I was greatly afraid, for now I was displayed
like a mouse in a city of cats.
Huge and silent they came, each exactly the same
as I shook like one facing the axe.
I was led by a score and out crept hundreds more
as the sun travelled low in the sky
and each monster took care to take time out to stare
at the alien beast that was I.
Soon the world blazed with gold, then it grew dark and cold
as the day had been boiling and bright
and the sands seemed serene as the face of a queen
and two crescent moons shone in the night.
As my captors, like me, lay among the debris
of a people unknown and long gone
I remembered the home from which I had been thrown
till I slept, and awoke with the dawn.
I had thought that the souls of our servants of old
lived again in a monstrous guise.
Given time to reflect I began to suspect
there was nothing behind those blank eyes.
For each mother would smile at the pain of her child
and each father, so too at his daughter
and the few that grew old, they were tortured tenfold
and died raving and pleading for water.
It is easily told how so few would grow old.
Though the desert was bitter and bleak
for each one that it claimed dozens more could be blamed
on the strong bringing death to the weak.
Now I still fail to see why these fiends let me be
but I felt small relief at the time
for my house and my bed were among the undead
and the world that I trod wasn’t mine.
Thus my banishment went, and I may well have spent
all the rest of my life in this way.
Hope had left me—but then it came calling again
with the name Dejah Thoris one day.
I was watching anew the monotonous view.
vaguely thinking of plans of escape
when a bird met my eyes of such mountainous size
that I gasped and my jaw hung agape.
Then I saw that I erred, for it wasn’t a bird
but some manner of ship of the air
and they labor in vain on the banks of the Seine
for no painting was ever as fair.
How a thing of such grace could be found in that place
I have naught of the wisdom to tell.
Are there vultures that nest on the Isle of the Blest?
Do the angels vacation in Hell?
As I hollered and waved and believed I was saved
on she sailed as if deafened and blind.
Shouting out for her pity I ran through the city
and cried, “Please don’t leave me behind!”
Now my pleading grew wild and I wept like a child
or a slave who is under the lash
but the creatures who found me were now all around
hoping not to escape, but to smash.
In the hands of each one was some manner of gun
that they shot with an Indian’s aim
and these weapons they bore built with alien lore
caused the timber to burst into flame.
So my battered heart broke as the ship bellowed smoke
and she split into two as she dived.
Pretty soon I could see naught but flames and debris
and just one of the crew had survived.
But that one was quite ample to once again trample
on all that I thought that I knew.
Though I’d bleakly resigned to forget my own kind
she was human as me or as you.
James Hutchings lives in Melbourne, Australia. He fights crime as Poetic Justice, but his day job is acting. You might know him by his stage-name ‘Brad Pitt.’ His work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly and Wisdom Crieth Without among other markets. His ebook ‘Ideas and Inspiration For Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers’ is now available from Amazon, Smashwords, and DriveThruFiction. James blogs regularly at http://www.apolitical.info/teleleli.