The Stakes of Life

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Mark Mobley


The rolling hills of the countryside were tranquil as the verdant grass swayed in a light breeze. Birds and other animals provided ambient sounds, giving the illusion of peace. A closer look easily revealed something amiss. High Voltage power lines and large water pipes, conduits of life, jutted out of the ground, destroying the sanctity of Nature. Artificial earth lined the ground and stained the land a poisonous black. The country side shook with promise and revolution. People came and staked out their claim for land. Buildings with roofs were created; monuments of man’s power over nature stretched to the skies. Life had changed. Man had marred the world to reflect his image. There was no longer a connection to Mother Gaia, but a connection to the ideal that man was superior. Man had turned his back on his creator. Cast into the shadows, but still well alive, the Earth bided its time before it would punish the infidels.

Zed walked into the airport for the first time in his life. With him, he carried three suitcases, each one smaller than the last. They were old suitcases, the faded color peeled off its surface with the lightest touch. What he had packed were the bare essentials of mainly clothes, medicine, and his religious texts. It wasn’t that he was poor and couldn’t afford new ones; it was quite the contrary. His head position in his religions fellowship afforded him the same luxuries as everyone else. However, Zed felt a deep hatred, a passion really, toward material goods. He had never seen such stress, activity, fervor and flash over buying things than in a shopping mall during Christmas. People ran around buying anything that could be a gift. Zed could not believe that someone used a religious holiday to preach mass commercialism.

    “Hello sir, you are aware of the airline policy that only one carry-on and checked bag is allowed. Additional bags will be $100 dollars each according to new airline standards set this month. Zed, flabbergasted, could not believe that it would cost that much. He realized that airlines were businesses, but couldn’t accept that businesses were gauging him. Zed reminded himself of his personal motto: respect and patience, even in the hardest of situations. It was derived from Zen Buddhism, which he followed to deepen his shared connection with nature. No matter what trials laid in the future, worrying about them would do no good. Zed had accepted the fate of life long ago and had learned to not dwell too much on the future. There was only the present day. The deed was done and he parted with two hundred dollars. The religious occurrence would happened only once in his lifetime and he knew that it was too important to miss.

Zed had regretfully missed the last ceremony due to an uncontrollable storm that forced him to take shelter in his house. While there was only minor damage to his property, he suffered the pains of disappointment. Zed contemplated life for the last month. Emerging out of this reverie, he understood.

The buzz of the airport was a cacophony of noise; it rang out from all directions at once, seeming to come from the floor itself. It seemed so unnatural for so much activity to happen in one place. People lined up in a mechanical fashion to scan, prod, and expose each person and their possessions so that they could move from point A to point B. The epitome of the emotionless and impersonal machine called modern society. Once in flight, who would marvel at soaring like Icarus through the air? People were only concerned about how long it would take and how much.

    Zed saw a much calmer and more efficient way to get people to their destinations, where people wouldn’t die from stress, but he wasn’t focused on fixing the transportation network. As the airport pulsed around him, he tried to carefully plan out the outline of his speech, but the constant noise did not yield him any cohesive thought. While versed in isolating himself from society, it was impossible for Zed to ignore the conversations around him as he waited patiently at the airport. They engulfed him in the same manner as a tornado, a whirlwind of nothing but strong noise.

    “I’m late, get out of my way. Yeah, I got the deal, we are sitting clean. Can you get me a salad?…No, not that one, I don’t want that one. This is a security advisory: do not leave your bags unattended… Hey, do you know who I am? Flight 101 is now boarding First Class Passengers only”

    This extra noise coming from the ambient noise of the airport, which was already well beyond the threshold of his usual secluded life, was like a punch in the face. Zed had little desire to be around people who were so grandiose. One neighboring conversation in particular struck his interest at its sheer absurdity.

A woman was at the ticket counter, her arms waving frantically. “Why haven’t we starting boarding? Can’t you speed this up? I’ve been waiting for half an hour, and you’ve been standing behind the counter the whole time, do something, anything!

    “Miss, I don’t set the schedule and I can’t help a late flight. There is nothing that I can do. Now why don’t you sit down so that I can help the passengers behind you.

    “The customer is always right”, she sarcastically spat. With that, the woman walked away. The blondish woman surveyed the area and then decided to take a seat across from Zed. The exact moment she hit the seat, she had her cell phone in hand and with already talking to someone. With the rhetorical question of “Hi, how are you?” she started informing the other party about her delay. “I’m at the airport and I am waiting for the plane to arrive. It is so late! To think I’m paying to wait at the airport! Yes, of course. Du’h.”

She started curling her hair with her index finger.

    “I mean, I called Daniel and let him know and I had to call you. You would think that a flight shouldn’t be delayed for hours. I got to get to the party. It’s the perfect place to pick up men. You need to start looking for a man to provide for you. You know what I mean? Uh-huh. Grieg is going to be there and Jeff! Yeah, they own that company. Just think what you and I could buy with that money. I see a new ring on your finger! Oh really? I thought she was coming….. Did you see the brown dress that Amanda was wearing yesterday? It looked like she fell in paper bag. Did you see how fat she has become?! She looks like a blimp in woman’s clothing…. “

    She whipped out her makeup and applied a touch up with her compact mirror.

“You are gonna see the new me when I finally get to the party. Botox, lippo, and plastic surgery do wonders for the body. Yeah, it cost a lot, but beauty is all that matters. You know, I think you could go for a lift and tuck too. You do want to look your best don’t you? God, you’re not getting any younger. You know I’m always right! Uh-huh. Great. Bye”

    Not wanting to acknowledge that she is human, she quickly isolated herself by taking out her Ipod and alternated between makeup and a magazine that cried out fashion. Another layer of lipstick was applied before she decided to stick with the magazine. Seconds pass before her phone lets out a shriek of high pitched lyrics that Zed can’t make out.

    “Hi Amanda. How are you, yes it was really great seeing you yesterday. Can you hear me? I’M AT THE AIRPORT AND I’M WAITING TO GET ON MY FLIGHT. HELLO? HELLO! Are you at the party already? Shut up. Oh my God. Shut up. Really? Shut Up!!! He did what? What do you mean he was with another girl?? You tell that loser that I am done with him. Oh, I wanted you to know that I really liked the dress that you were wearing yesterday; it matched your hair perfectly. Yeah. Okay, I’ll call you later.”

    Reaching into her endless purse, she took out her mirror and admired herself for a good ten minutes. She then rummaged in her purse and put on her dark sunglasses and remained silent behind her magazine.

    Zed was unsure of what to think of her. She was an enigma, and he couldn’t place who she was exactly. Zed quietly hoped that the woman would not continue her façade throughout the flight where he would be stuck in the same location as her for five hours.

    The plane eventually arrived on the strip of land dedicated for roaming the skies. Zed boarded the plane, excited about the reunion with his fellow members, whom he had not seen for a while. Regretfully, the woman had been intertwined with his soul, and she was there once again to fill the void of the air travel as he sat down. He was boxed between the woman sitting in the emergency exit row window and another man who lay slumped and motionless in the aisle seat. She began to eat peanuts that she had brought with her as she continued to talk on her cell-phone and the noise and litter started accumulating around her. A flight attendant came by to say that she “needed to turn off her cell phone”. The woman paid no attention and continued talking as she ate her peanuts. She repeated the sentence, but the woman was too much into herself and her conversation. The flight attendant, realizing it was a futile battle, walked away to regroup.

    The other man looked like a dead lawyer. He had the business suit and briefcase to match, and Zed had the feeling that the man made a successful living defending big businesses. The large suit alone showed an indication of his wealth, yet his visage was hidden under a hat. All that Zed could make out of the actual person was the lone pale and wrinkled right hand forcefully clutching a flask of what smelled like vodka. He had already taken plenty of generous drinks and had entered the daze of drunkenness. A deep voice arose from the darkness.

    “Money, money, money; so much money. Oh how I run those big wigs. I drop a little change and those lawmakers make it illegal to sneeze. Haha.”

He took a large swig from his flask and it fell to the floor more than half empty

    “I can run the whole world if I wanted. It is only a matter of money. That’s all it takes, bribery. The bribes, oh the bribes. Money to change laws, change the land, control the people. Politicians think of it as dual income, some for people, most from me. My money makes them who they are, they know it. They fly around it like sugar. Sweet sugary Sugar!”

    The man started slapping Zed’s shoulder with his hand despite the fact that the man was speaking to the broken reading light above.

    “Throw a little money around in the right direction, have the military around my finger. Where to invade next, so little time but so much money. I make money, money makes me. Hehe. Oh, the possibilities! I’m happy, ecstatic. I’m flying high.”

    The man let out a wheezing laughter that reverberated through the main cabin. The people around him were unsettling and provided unneeded reminders of the pain to live in a materialistic society; Zed wanted nothing to do with them. Luckily, with a little coaxing on his part, he was able to get her upgraded along with the other man to first class so he could have the three seats to himself. Stretching himself across the entire length of the seats, he descended into a meditative sleep, allowing his mind to expand beyond the metal enclosure of the plane for the time being.

    The woman, whom will be named Jessica, was still not satisfied, even with First Class. She had sampled all the beverages, had eaten meals reserved for three people, read all the magazines, had listened to the electronic entertainment with scorn, and had become very bored with being unable to call her friends to voice her opinions. Even the complimentary mints, cookies, and warm towels provided no respite from her complaints. The flight attendants tried to avoid her gaze whenever they passed by for fear of having to fulfill some impossible desire. She pushed the call button frantically with little success. While a flight attendant was confiscating the man’s flask, she let loose her barrage.

    “Is this the best that First Class has to offer, I feel like I’m living in a pig sty. You call this service? The other flights I have been on have leather seat warmers and have better entertainment.

    “We’re sorry Miss,” the steward said trying to remain diplomatic in the face of a futile argument, “we are a passenger airline whose goal is to get people there in comfort. We can’t offer more services because it would reduce the quality of the overall flight.”

    “The quality of the flight?! There is no quality to this flight. It is a hunk of bolts that is barely flying. Just look at the TV, you call that quality?! I can smell that Suit from over here. If there were any quality, I would already be on the ground and not wasting my time talking to you.”

     Jessica’s loudness transcended the class boundaries of the plane and Zed’s mediation entered a new hazy phase between REM sleep and was internally awakened by her noise. Zed could easily see that this woman would never be satisfied with anything. If she were the ruler of the world or could have anything she wanted, she would complain that she was still not satisfied. “Typical, people don’t realize that they have life extremely easy. That woman is experiencing the best that the airlines have to offer and she is still complaining about her life. It makes me wish I could get away from her and fly myself the rest of the way.” he said to the person who was sitting opposite of him in the row who also watching the spectacle.

The man smiled and said “she reminds us why we don’t sit in First Class. There are always people like that, on every flight, every minute and second of everyday.”

    “That woman is sure making such a fuss about nothing,” said Zed. “She should learn to live life, enjoy the world around her instead of wasting her time trying to have society fulfill her simple desires. It just isn’t possible. As a result, the Earth has been stretched thin trying to provide for the man’s endless desires.”

“That’s some trippy stuff there. Are you like a philosopher or something?”

“Not at all,” he admitted. “I trust tranquility and self-enlightenment, that each person can find the answer for themselves.”

“Yeah, yeah, we all want peace and to be happy and stuff, but have you seen the wars recently, it isn’t really hunky dorey around the world.”

“True. The stakes have never been higher. People keep trying to ignore it. I have read about the omen that destruction is on the horizon for the human race”

“What is this from?” the man asked with cautious interest.

“Not sure, but an Enlightened Sect describe that a man needs some peace. Anyway, the world is destined to be destroyed by man’s fight against Earth.”

“Right, someone has predicted the future that we are all going to die. You’re crazy! I don’t have time for this trashy religion.”

A brief silence ensued. Zed collected his thoughts and said quietly, “don’t ignore it. You do nothing but instead insult my opinion without bothering to understand it.”

“Leave me alone, I have to focus my energy on this crossword I’m doing.”

With that, the man refused to acknowledge Zed’s existence for the rest of the flight and disappeared behind his crossword. Zed was not phased by this quick exchange of words, it happened quite often and helped him learn more about himself. People always had a closed mind with it came to accepting his views, and it wasn’t the first time that people tried to ignore his warning.

The rest of the day slipped by as the plane raced across the sky like the Sun. A bright red sunset, almost crimson, spotted the sky as the plane touched down on the cement runway. Without further delays or challenges to his beliefs, the rest of the flight went smoothly. The man disappeared from the plane, leaving behind his crossword.


    People disembarked, luggage was collected, and Zed was finally at his destination. As Zed walked out of the plane and out of the gate, he saw the sign he was looking for being held by a burly man in a black tuxedo: “RES”, which Zed understood to mean “Reservation- Enlightened Sect”. Already parts of his congregation were amassed around the man with the sign. People of all ages, both young and old, of all races and ethnic backgrounds had centered on the one man, totaling around fifty. It was only a very small fraction of the members Zed would reach, but more people were still coming. It was only a matter of time before he commanded their attention for a moving sermon

    The man led the members through the fast approaching darkness to waiting limousines at the front of the terminal. Zed wasn’t expecting this. It wasn’t his choice of transportation, he would have rather walked through the countryside enjoying the moonlight, but there wasn’t the time and he had no other option, so he accepted the transportation. They entered and departed. As dusk turned to night, the reflections of the street lamps hit the limo as beams of light that flickered across the roof and exterior. As the street lights became fewer and fewer, the pulse of lights became an intermittent reminder that they were leaving the suburbs. The driver put on an upbeat techno whose bass rippled the interior. Zed’s mind throbbed from the beat, and gave him some much needed respite from the churning thoughts in his head. The limousine increased its speed and the illuminated temple came into view.

     Zed noticed the intense light of the illuminated temple on the near horizon; a familiar and warming sight in the increasing darkness of the night. It grew steadily in size until it engulfed his visual field. The temple was the ultimate monastery; it was isolated from the scornful watch of society and allowed its members to study ancient religious documents in peace. The rest of human society would love nothing more than to convert the temple into a tourist attraction, develop the land around it housing, or exploit for resources. While it showed off the power of man, it was still a symbol of dedication to understanding our relationship with Nature. The limousine came to a screeching halt at the entrance of the temple with gravel flying in its wake.

Zed easily recognized each of their faces through the hood of their flowing robes as he entered the temple. Still clad in his normal clothes, Zed took a moment to change into his robes, which he removed from his suitcase. He also removed his holy scriptures and his pendent, the holy eye icon, a gold chalice, a flask of water, and his parchment.

     He was now among his Brotherhood as he stepped into the main atrium of the temple. They instantly recognized him and greeted him with the usual greeting of “Peace, Brother Zed” and he returned his greeting, “Peace, Brothers.”

     Zed worked his way through the throng and took his place at the center podium in the main atrium. He quickly composed his thoughts, remembering what he had meditated so long ago last year. With that he began his speech:

     “Fellow brothers, we are united here today to bear witness to an occurrence that threatens to plunge the world into chaos. There exits an evil that has bought upon us this crisis, the evils of society. Society has greedily harvested this planet for its resources, land, animals and has repaid the favor with pollution, disease, death. Gaia, the mother spirit, is angry at the actions of man. The world around us has warned us of the damage they we have caused.

¨What kind of warning are you talking about?” yelled someone from the crowd.

     “The warnings have always been there and have intensified up to this day. People have continued to ignore the increasing Global Warming, storm activity, seismic and volcanic activity, as well as the increasing disruption of normal Earth activity. The tidal waves and wind patterns have become erratic, and the Moon glows an ominous red as you can see above me.

     The destruction of the Earth has always been destined. The force of the universe has been unbalanced by man; it must be balanced again. Man owns the planet and does what he wants with it. He oppresses his own people, keeping them ignorant of their demise while exploiting all that he can from them too. These people exist and will always exist. The society that “protects us” also leads us to imminent doom. It is the reason for our end and the reason for our assembly. There is not much time, so I must be blunt: the predictions are true, the Earth within the hour and bring about the rebirth of Earth!”

     There was a frenzied uproar among the Brotherhood. None had expected the day to arrive or their faith to be tested in this extreme. There was general pandemonium. Many of the members started running toward the nearest exists with the thought that they could somehow run away from their problems. Most huddled together and prayed loudly as a group. A few even tried to turn to the religious texts for guidance.

     Zed tried to collect his thoughts. He too deep down in the back of his mind denied that the Earth would end too, but he believed in the Holy Scrolls and the signs he had seen. There was no point to deny it, it was going to happen and ignorance to the situation would solve nothing. Zed finally regained control by dimming all the lights except for the lone spotlight which glowed above him.
“We’ll all going to die!” yelled a woman to Zed’s right.

“Brothers, Brothers, calm down! While it was not expected to transpire, you know that the texts have been stunningly accurate so far on the signs. The apocalypse, or “rebirth” as it is written in our texts, has always pointed to this day and time as end of the world. Each of us have mediated on this day, I know I have. I just want you to know that I feel honored being a part of the Brotherhood and love each of you very much, no matter what happens. ”

“We haven’t done anything wrong. We respect the Earth, why should we die?” said a man.

     “There is a way to delay the inevitable. It is written in the seventieth scroll that by calling upon Gaia, the power that flows through the Earth, that the doomsday may be stopped. It is written and so must be done,” spoke up an anonymous hooded member.

Zed had not come with the intention of trying to save the world, but with the intention of spending the last few moments of his life with people that shared the same love and connection to nature. Zed rummaged through his scrolls and read for a few moments. Reading what was required, he undertook a ritual that had never been performed.

     “Brothers, pray as one harmonious force with me. Gaia, hear our call: we are the ones that have respected and admired your power to give life. Now is the time to balance the forces of energy on Earth. With this drop of blood from my finger, I renounce humankind’s sins and show that we are only mortal.”

With that, Zed grazed the pages of the Holy Scrolls with his right index finger, opening up a line of red that emitted only one drop of blood onto the gold chalice next to the podium. Zed held the chalice over his head tilted toward the sky. The response was swift and startling.

A bright light was seen far off in space. The Earth started to shake violently. A thunderous storm started to brew. Rain pelted down onto the domed temple violently. Thunder, like the bark of war, shattered bone. Dark cloud streaked across the sky at speeds unprecedented. Lightning danced across the surface of the sky lighting up the Earth, making it day. Every force on Earth surged as one.

     The light coming from the sky continued to shine brilliantly. Zed and the rest of the Brotherhood looked futilely toward the sky looking for answers. A great shadow cut across the land. The Sun form was slowly being enveloped by the moons eclipse. The sky lit up even more with different colors of light. The Judgment, ignited the atmosphere like a second Sun.

     The Earth shook on its hinges from the stress of the entire cosmic energy gathering. The temple’s dome surface started cracking, the walls started cracking, the floor started cracking, yet they did not shatter killing its inhabitants. Other things on the planet’s surface weren’t so lucky and were swept into debris. With a mighty lurch, the planet cleaved open and all the natural forces of the Earth formed together. The sifting lands of the world melded with the volcanic magna that erupted across the Earth. Lightning and wind struck the shapeless mass as the force of water enveloped it. The birth of new life, swirling across the sky with a multitude of colors flashed a colorful mix of blue and green, ascended into the heavens toward the solar eclipse. All light escaped the universe. Then, in as quick the light departed, it came back in full force toward Earth. The meteor, which had filled up the background of the sky as the forces of earth formed, exploded with an expanding waterfall of sparkling matter as nothing could absorb the forces. Thunderous noise beyond compression was followed by a disheartening silence.

The movement had stopped. Gaia, finally pacified, focused Her energy toward the regeneration of the planet. Her power was absolute. Man was no longer a threat to Her.

     Zed was sprawled out on the cement floor of the temple. Not all human life on Earth had been destroyed from Gaia’s intervention. He was still alive; his racing heart and raspy, heavy breathing was a living testament. Zed his mind was scattered and he flashed between states of consciousness. The silence of the world allowed for limitless thoughts. He knew the truth.

     Finally, after an eternity, Zed was regained awareness and was able to rise, using the podium for support. He trembled as he looked through the atrium. The temple was damaged beyond repair; it was only a matter of time before it became a ruin. There was still life in the temple, some of the Brotherhood lived, he felt it. Others had not the will to go on. Zed, still holding onto the podium attempted to address whoever was alive.

     “We mustn’t forget the evil actions that caused the doomsday. We must respect the natural world around us and not think that man is superior. If we fail, I fear that no amount of repenting will save us,” Zed said. “Our first task should be to write this event down, so that it can become part of our history for future generations to learn from the mistakes of man. As it was said, ‘we must not forget history or we are doomed to repeat it.’ There is a new hope for a better world.” With that, Zed began his life anew.


The Temple by Olivier Zitvogel


The Stakes of Life is copyrighted 2006 by Mark Mobley.  It is exclusive to and may not be transmitted or copied to other other sites/domains. 

The artwork "The Temple" is owned by Olivier Zitvogel.  His web page is here

I hope you enjoyed the story!