It was cold as most winters go, even in the big city. Chicago was known for it's high winds but tonight was different. It was in the last day of the millennium, after midnight it would be 2000. Most were celebrating the turn of the next century in blissful fashion. Others were praying the world wouldn't end at the stroke of midnight. One man just wanted to be left alone.
His name was Mark Savage, or commonly known as "The Savage" in the boxing world. He had retired over 7 years ago, after he lost his final fight to a young man named simply as "Honey Boy". It was a humiliation he couldn't live down. He moved from New York to Chicago to get away from that scene. Over the years he continued to box but didn't focus on his exercise. He was gaining weight, and began to smoke again. It was vices that helped him forget his past. He wanted it to stay buried.
Mark walked down the street, almost to his favorite gas station. An old Jewish man named Conner ran it. He was a nice man and didn't judge Mark on his past. That was something to the boxer that was worth its weight in gold. Mark would have liked a second chance. A return fight against the little kid called Honey Boy. Hey, if Foreman could have a comeback, why couldn't he?
Mark opened up the door to the corner gas station. He saw the old man still sitting at his stool behind the counter. He was smoking a cigarette and drinking an Orange soda. "Evening, Mr. Savage." He crooned.
"Top of the evening to you, Conner." Mark said, proceeding to the back, "How is your son?"
"The little shit never calls. What about your children?"
"I don't have any children."
"Aww," the old man sighed, "That surprises me. You would make a good father. You are one of the most kind men I know."
"Thank you for that compliment but it's too late for me," Mark smiled, grabbing his ice cream.
"How old are you, Mr. Savage?"
"It's never too late for children. You will never know one of the greatest joys in life than fatherly pride."
"I'll take your word for it," Mark smiled, placing the ice cream on the counter.
"You should heed my advice, Mark. You only get one life. Make the most of it."
Mark only smiled at his comment. He was a nice old man and he enjoyed his company but during certain speeches, it didn't sit well with him. Mark knew that you only get one life and he should make the most of it. However, he couldn't help feeling it was too late. There was no way to go back to the past and relive his glory days. He could only continue on his job at the body shop and hope he can retire early. What he was going to do, he didn't know.
Conner handed him his change and he placed it in his pocket. As he picked up the ice cream, he began to walk out. Then a young man burst into the station, practically kicking the door in. Mark froze. He gazed at the young man but all he saw was the shotgun he was holding. He could hear the bag containing the ice cream slam on the floor. He could hear Conner rushing for the phone to dial 9-1-1.
He could hear the shotgun blast echo through the small building.
Mark felt like a truck hit him. He slammed into the beer display behind him. As he collided with the display, he slid down. He felt the blood leaving his chest. He heard another blast and saw poor Conner drop to the floor. The youth jumped the counter and started to break in the cash register. Must have been some young guy who wanted a quick fix and needed money, not caring who stood in his way. Mark felt his heart slowing. He had to admit he didn't think he'd die this way. As the darkness crept up around his eyes, he had only one thought left in his head.
Mr. Conner deserved better.
Mark opened his eyes and looked around him. He was trying to breathe but it felt incredibly strange. He was surrounded by green water. At least he thought it was green water. He tried to open his mouth but felt a thin veil of slime covering them. He was in a bubble. He didn't understand how but he was in a bubble.
Then he saw a strange sight. Thousands upon thousands of over bubbles, each were containing one person. It didn't make sense and Mark was getting scared. Then he felt something strike him against the back. It was like a stick poking him. He quickly turned around; to see a long staff slide it's way out of the bubble. He caught the glimpse of a strange man, in a hooded cloak. How could he be under water and not have a scuba outfit?
Then Mark remembered. HE'S UNDER WATER!
When the staff left the bubble, it collapsed under the weight of the water. Mark felt the rush of water caress all around him and flood his nostrils. He quickly started to look toward the smaller bubbles and follow them up. He thrust his arms up and down, swimming to the surface. He continued to struggle until he saw the green water give way to blue. Then he saw light from above.
Mark gasped as his head exploded to the air above the water. He took in another gasp and scanned the area. Ahead of him was a valley with a beach. He quickly started to swim to the shore. He continued to swim and swim, spitting out the water as it entered his mouth. It was started to feel weird, as he expected the water to be salty, but it wasn't. It was slightly fresh, feeling only small pockets of dirt.
Mark finally felt the sand beneath his feet and stopped swimming. He felt every muscle in his body burning, remembering what it was like to swim. He took a gasp of air and felt invigorated. He hadn't felt this good in a long time.
Arriving at the shore, he collapsed on all fours. He then leaned up and turned around. He then could see the ocean he came from was not an ocean at all but a river. A giant river. Across the stretch of water was a giant mist, covering a distance mountain range. Mark slumped to the ground, wondering what had happened. Had he died? Was this Heaven or was this hell?
Mark scanned his body features. He felt different and the visuals proved it. His muscles rippled across his chest. He felt of his stomach, seeing that his beer belly was no more. He even saw that his American flag tattoo on his forearm was gone. He felt about the same way he was at. . 25. He felt like he just past through the fountain of youth.
Mark then blinked as he heard someone screaming. He was so busy looking at his own changes; he didn't even see the dozens of people emerging from the water with him. Several women and men came out from the water, screaming in confusion and happiness. Some were chanting they had died and gone to hell. Others believed they were simply dreaming. Mark just sat on the sand, unable to move. It wasn't that he couldn't move, he just didn't know what to make of all this.
Then a young blonde man appeared from the surf. He was coughing and trying to walk. Mark went then on pure instinct, getting up from his seat and rushing to help the man. The water splashed around his feet as he met up to him. The young man quickly grabbed onto him and allowed Mark to help him to the beach.
Once there they both collapsed onto the brown wet sand. The blonde man coughed a little more and then leaned back up. He looked over, extending his hand to Mark. "My thanks, friend." He smiled.
"Don't mention it." Mark said, returning the handshake.
"I never was much of a swimmer. I reckoned I was a goner."
"I hadn't swum since I was in college. I wasn't expecting to die and be sent to a river."
"What do you mean, die?" the blonde man froze.
Mark leaned up, "We are dead, man. This is the afterlife. It has to be. I was shot point blank with a damn shotgun and now I am here. This must be heaven or something."
"I ain't seen no angels. This doesn't look like the Heaven my ma taught me about."
"My mother didn't tech me about this kind of heaven either. But it's the only explanation that makes sense. How did you die?"
The blonde man blinked as small droplet of water dripped off his curly hair. He looked slowly at the man who helped him from the river. "Them injuns got me." He whispered.
"What injuns?" Mark asked, "You mean Indians or Native Americans?"
"They were native to America, yeah. Me and my men had just gone past the Rosebud River when we saw the Sioux village. I ordered them to attack, cause I thought they would alert more of their Injun friends. I never realized there was so many. If I had known, I wouldn't have sent Reno after them before they could escape the river. We should have pushed on."
"Reno? Was he a friend?"
"Yeah, Major Reno was a good man. He served under me."
"Served? Under you?" Mark blinked, "Major Marcus Reno?"
"How do you know his name?"
"I saw it on the History Channel."
"History . .channel?" the blond man said in confusion.
"Wait a minute, are you expecting me to believe . . . you're George Custer?"
"Yeah, I expect you to believe me cause that is who I am!"
Mark blinked several times before he realized the man was telling the truth. "Holy shit. You died in 1876."
Custer looked at his new friend and then had to ask, "What year did you die?"
"1999?" Custer blinked, "That . . .that is how you knew Reno's name. You were reading about it in history books."
"Well, close, I was watching the History Channel."
"Again, with this history channel. A channel is a river, are you telling me some crazed Injun medicine man told you about me?"
"No, it's on cable."
"Cable?" Custer said confused.
"Never mind. It'll take too long to explain."
Custer then stood up and Mark followed him. They looked to the other people across the beach. They were all grabbing these metal canisters floating in the surf. Mark turned around and saw four near him. He reached down, grabbed two and handed Custer the other one. "Much obliged, friend," Custer said, then looked back at him and said, "Well, partner, are you going to tell me your name now?"
"Oh, sorry," Mark smiled, extending his hand, "My name is Mark Savage."
"Nice to meet ya, Mark."
Custer then held up the canister and opened it. He gently peered inside and found some form of cloth inside the tube. He slowly pulled it out and saw that it was a folded up pair of pants and a light blue shirt. Seeing what it contained, Mark quickly opened his canister, retrieving the clothes. The two men then began to dress themselves, as their wet bodies made them shiver in the morning wind.
Mark tucked in his shirt, feeling better. He sealed back the canister and using the strap attached to it, flung it around his chest, hooking it at the neck. Custer did the same, and then looked around to the other people. "What do you think we should do now, Mark?" asked the young general.
"I don't know. This afterlife thing is a little new to me."
Then their thoughts were interrupted by a scream. They both looked to the other end of the beach. Their was a group of men attacking a woman. Mark couldn't believe what he was seeing. Their a large man with red hair tracking to have his way with a younger woman. She was struggling as best she could. George scratched his eyebrow, saying, "If those boys don't stop their horsing around, some angel is gonna send them to hell."
"The angels haven't shown up yet, George."
"Then maybe we should stick our noses in."
Mark smiled, "It's the gentlemanly thing to do."
George and Mark then ran down the beach to the scene. A black man then grabbed the woman and held her down, managing to rip one of her sleeves off. Mark then grabbed him and punched him across the jaw. The black man swirled like a top with a small trickle of blood zooming through his lip. George shoved two other men aside, backing up his friend. The woman grabbed a hold of Mark and stood behind him. Mark held up his fists as the men circled them like wild dogs. "What de hell is ya'll's problem?" George screamed, "You don't just start raping women in the afterlife!"
"If this be Valhalla, stranger, then I am entitled to my heavenly pleasures before I go kill the werewolves that roam this place." The redheaded man said.
"Werewolves?" George flustered, "Mark, this boy is plum loco!"
"I don't think so." Mark huffed, feeling the woman grabbing his shirt and staying behind him, "He's talking about werewolves and Valhalla, then he's probably a Viking."
"Why would Vikings be in the afterlife?" the woman said.
"I don't know, Miss. But it seems everybody who's ever died has wound up here."
"Are you two men from Ferdinand's camp?" the woman asked.
"We just got here, Lady. Same as you." George replied.
A black man hovered near them like a wild tiger. "If the Norseman gets a piece, we should all have one."
"Be silent, you filthy Moor!" screamed the woman.
Mark got in front of the woman, holding up his fists. Then the words she had spoken rang in his head. Moor and Ferdinand. He had already met George Custer, so the possibilities of meeting other long dead historical figures might be even greater. "Ma'am, "Mark whispered, "Is your name Isabella?"
"Yes," she replied, "How did you know that?"
"Queen Isabella de Castile." Mark whispered, "I can't believe it."
"A queen?" the Norseman laughed, "This makes it all the more pleasurable!"
"It's looking bad, Mark. These wild men are getting more hungry." George panted.
"Your Majesty, we'll hold them off. Get ready to run." Mark gasped.
"Thank you for your courage, Gentlemen." Isabella smiled reluctantly.
The Norseman then rushed Custer, grabbing him by the waist. The general cupped his hands together, slamming them down on his kidney. The Viking grunted in pain as collapsed to his knees. The black man swung at Mark but the boxer dodged it easily. Then he uppercut him across the jaw, making him fling back like rag doll. The "Moor" was down for the count.
Another man cracked George over the head with his fist. Mark swirled around and punched him across the jaw, feeling it break. The man grunted in pain as he felt his mouth feeling up with blood and teeth. Mark then swirled, only to get hit by another man. He felt a little dizzy, as the man hit him again. He felt onto the ground seeing as it was some giant black man, different than the other one. The boxer felt the man grab him by the arms and then hoist him up in a bear hug. Mark screamed in pain as he felt the massive arms of the African warrior squeezing the life out of him.
Then the giant man's head jolted to the right as a foot connected with the side of his head. Mark and the big man fell but Mark was still conscious. He looked around to see that two men had come to their aid. One was an oriental man, wielding a stick. He twirled it with the skill of a trained martial artist. The other was a man, similar to their age, punching and kicking the other men away. He and the oriental man seemed to have shared the same martial artist instructor.
The wounded men ran off unable to fight off the pair. The oriental man twirled his stick and tucked it under his arm. The other man brushed off the sand from his loose black pants and turned around to look at Mark. Mark gazed up the man and was flabbergasted at his appearance. It wasn't hard for Mark to NOT recognize the man. He always loved Viva Las Vegas. "Elvis?" Mark asked.
"Yeah, that is me, buddy." Elvis smiled, holding out his hand, "You okay?"
"Yes, thank you, " Mark said, taking his hand and allowing him to help him up, "Thank you for helping me."
"Ain't nothing. I saw two guys helping out a sweet little thing from getting raped. It was the least I could do."
"How did you kick those guys asses like that?" Mark said, before snapping his fingers, "That's right! You're a black belt."
"When in my business, you got to be able to defend yourself from many jealous boyfriends." Elvis smiled.
Mark laughed. He never would have imagined that he would be defending himself from barbarians on a far off distance world and having a famous singer like Elvis Presley come to his rescue. As they stopped their conversation, the oriental man came up to Elvis and bowed. The singer immediately bowed his return, familiar with the custom. "Many thanks for your assistance." The oriental man said.
"Thank you. Thank you very much." Elvis replied.
"I am Shinto Musato, samurai to the Shogun of Edo."
"I am Elvis Presley, samurai to the shores of Memphis." The singer smiled.
"Memphis?" Shinto asked in confusion, "is that near Nagasaki?"
"Bit further west."
"Fellows," George said, interrupting them, "I think we should get out of here before these idiots wake up."
"Good idea, "Mark said, motioned for Elvis and Shinto to follow them.
Within minutes they had made it to a nearby rocky plane. The small group of companions climbed up the small hill to the top to get a better view of where they were. Isabella stumbled slightly, catching her fall. Mark turned around and offered his hand to help her. She smiled, taking it gladly. "My thanks, Mark." Isabella said, pleasantly.
"You're welcome, your majesty."
"Oh, please. This is not Spain. We are all on equal grounds here. Please call me Isabella."
"So, it is true then. We are dead and this is the afterlife."
"Near as I can figure."
"This doesn't look like the afterlife the Catholic Church told us about."
"Yeah, "Elvis laughed, "I knew it wasn't heaven cause it didn't look like Memphis."
"Memphis is holy land where you come from?" The queen asked.
"It is to me." Elvis said with a glee in his eye.
"What do you miss about Memphis, Elvis?" asked Mark.
The group finally made their way to the top of the hill. As they did they heard a new sound of people approaching the lot that came with them from the river. Shinto pulled Elvis and George down to hide in the grassy knoll of the hill. Mark and Isabella quickly followed. The band of friends looked over the hill to the weird clothed men arriving at the beach. They had swords and were pushing the people together in a large group. Elvis didn't understand what was happening. "This definitely ain't heaven." He muttered.
"What are they saying?" Isabella asked.
"I can barely hear them." Mark commented.
"I can hear them." Shinto said, closing his eyes and concentrating.
The other four friends continued to look at the unusual scene fold out. Several men dressed like Barbarians held the frightened group of people together. The Viking they had beaten up earlier was getting beaten by another man with a giant hammer like weapon. Shinto then blew out some air from his lips, making a slight humming sound. "They are apart of a group of savage men, "he whispered, "They speak that they can offer them protection, in exchange they become slaves."
"Some trade off." Mark hissed.
"They call this place . . .Riverworld." Shinto said opening his eyes.
"That cuts it." George whispered, "This ain't Heaven."
"Can we help those people?" Isabella inquired.
"Not a good idea," George mentioned, "We got lucky with the Viking and his group but armed men with swords, we don't stand a chance. Best we regroup elsewhere, and see if we can find shelter. Only till we thought out a plan can we help those people."
"No Last stand then, General?" asked Mark.
"I'm done making snap decisions." He smiled.
"Very well, then it is agreed. We will help them after we find shelter." Isabella commented.
The group waited till the barbarians and the newly-reborn were out of sight. The wind picked up again from the river, making their clothes flap in the wind. The group then started to walk down to the other grassy plane in search for shelter. Isabella strode next to mark, with her arm around his. He really didn't mind, it seemed the Queen had adopted him as her "official escort" due to him helping her against the other men. Shinto stayed with George and Elvis as they walked along. Their trip to find shelter wouldn't all that unpleasant.
Elvis already began singing Rainy Night in Georgia.