Smart Bomb Chapter 13. Confession of the Soul

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Chapter 13. Confession of the Soul

“Okay, say that again. You are not going to deliver a message, but a bomb? Where?” Alvin had to sit down. The meaning of it all sank in to his mind.

“In my abdomen, nearest the power conversion units. It gets first choice of electricity generated by what I consume.” The android, who Alvin knew as Steve.

Days before Steve told Alvin about this bomb, Alvin had said that someone should blow up congress. Now he wished he could take those words back.

“That’s well and good, but you can’t just walk in to the building, they would catch that large of a weapon. It would be large, right?.”

“No, it is only about the size of your small fingernail.” Steve said it as if he was talking about a cat walking across the parking lot.

“That’s not much, how much damage can it cause?”

“I am my mission program is to go to the nuclear reactor near the capital building. The smallest known power reactor on the planet. It is inside an industrial area.” The android said. “Little is known about it, but it they discovered it in an electronic break in. Only one reference was found.”

“There is no reactor near congress.” Alvin disagreed.

“Near the Jefferson viaduct the government built a century ago.” Steve tried to convince Alvin.

“Uh, excuse me, but should I start running?” Alvin was backing around the table away from Steve.

“No.” Steve shook his head vigorously. “When I first arrived. Yes. But I have grown beyond the programming. This whole mission is wrong. I know that now. There is no reason for me to inflict death upon the leaders of this country or the people who live there.”

Sleeper the car sent more images to Steve. The very flag he knew that flew above the laboratory that created him, the soldiers wore on their sleeves in the images. The android reacted with revulsion.

“Regardless of what pictures Sleeper sends me and tries to get me to stop.” Steve got out of the driver’s seat. “I must go there, but I do not want to take the warhead to that place. I do not want to die. I do not want to kill. I want to take the bomb back to the point of origin and have them remove it.”

Steve paused. Looking very human-like.

“I want them to set me free.”

“Are you smoking something? You would be cut apart and they would fix the program, send someone new.” Alvin’s strangled voice sounded near hysteria. “We need to call someone. CIA, FBI, NSA, KGB… Even the United Patriots! Someone with skills to handle this! Oh my god… Oh. My. God!”

Steve sat and watched the human pace.

“I would be used as a weapon, no matter what. They would attempt to reprogram me and I would be obligated to detonate the device.”

“Were is it again?” Alvin’s brain tingled with fear and panic. This being could sit so calmly and talk about blowing up a nuke in downtown DC also blew his mind.

“In my abdomen, just below what would be the xiphoid process.”

“Can you take it out?” Alvin rubbed his face with his hands, peeking through the gaps in his fingers.

“It is possible, but you would need to do it, I cannot see inside, you need to pull the power plugs in proper order to keep the magnetic field in place.”

“So I have to do it, great.” Alvin pulled at his ear, calming down some. He was given a problem to focus on. “So, what is the yield of this eyelash sized explosive?”

“Estimated median yield is about eighty…” Steve stopped for a moment, paused with an error. “Wrong. Have to recalculate.”

“Eighty? Pounds?” Alvin jumped on that terror. In a control room of a nuclear facility, that would be all bad. “That’s enough high explosive to do some serious damage.”

“No, eight-thousand six hundred pounds.” Steve corrected. “I paused to weigh the amount to the correct the answer. My operating code has been overwritten twelve times. Patches are numbering in hundreds of thousands, so it requires me to thoroughly check my information.”

“That… Oh jeeze. That is a big boom.”

“It is not as big as the one that would follow.” Steve’s eyes followed Alvin as the man started to pace some more.

“What explosion?”

“James Madison Nuclear power station. It is the smallest of its kind . It produces power for the congress members and president should an attack happen and the power grid becomes disabled. The energy conversion of the explosion would cause a power surge on the order of one-hundred seventy to one-hundred eighty gigajoules through the wires and communications cables that the power company buried underground.” Steve let it sink in for a moment. “Then the failure of the coolant systems would cause a meltdown and poison the lands and atmosphere. It would be America’s Chernobyl for the next hundred generations of humans. This would sterilize the seat of the American government for two-hundred centuries.”

Alvin sat down for the uncounted time. He was a man who was too stressed to stay still for long. Standing to pace, sitting, standing. He was a man at the breaking point.

“Alvin, do not call anyone to take me in to custody. I have not altered the self-preservation code. The creator had it encrypted and hard-wired. I will detonate the bomb.” Steve said with a sad voice. “I don’t want to die, but I have no choice but to just power down. The moment I reboot. The magnetic bottle loses power and the warhead detonates.”

“What if.” He paced around the room. “What if, we built another being like you.”

“We cannot build one like me, you do not have the facilities.” Steve observed. “You have electronics, but not up to my caliber.”

“True, I don’t.” Alvin stressed with a slow smile. “But, someone of another group I know nearby who can. They have already built a miniature army that they play games with.”

Steve tilted his head for a moment, a habit that Alvin picked up on.

This android, when he struggles with an idea tilts his head to the left, slightly. Alvin watched Steve. He does it every time there is something that requires thought. No yes or no, but an answer that required thought on a level that is almost human.

“Synthetic skin such as mine can grow in a simple mixture of water and carbohydrates, double in mass every three hours.” Steve’s voice was as if he read from a list. “Power conversion units are available from different sources for farms to generate electricity. Mine is a kitchen model modified for extended use.”

“Maybe we can do something.” Alvin stood up again. “Let’s go see a friend. I’m going to set up a laser for a moment. They are at the end of the airbase. In the middle of the biggest patch of nothing out there. No way to approach without being seen.”

“The aircraft control tower?”

“That’s part of it. You have good eyes.” Alvin smiled. “Good programming. But that is where we are going. The rest is underground.”

“We will take the antimatter bottle out of me then?” Steve began to wonder, running odds against outcomes. “I have not considered disassemble. The danger is too high for the material to touch anything. It has a complete conversion to energy.”

“Wait. What? No, never mind.” Alvin held up his hands. “I already have a headache. And yes, they are patriots to the extreme. If they got a chance to send a bomb back to sender, that would tickle their souls” Alvin smiled.

“They are really good people, just a little extreme for my tastes.”

Setting up the laser output, he shined it out the window, towards the window of the abandoned control tower for fifteen-seconds, then turned it off. Repeated the process only shining it for ten-seconds and then paused.

A dazzling green light illuminated the spot behind the window for ten-seconds then went out.

“We are good to go.” Alvin clapped his hands together and rubbed them.

The two climbed inside Sleeper as it sat there with the patience of machines. When he pushed the throttle to the firewall, the acceleration was far more than Alvin thought possible.

“Your car is showing off.” The android observed. “Fully charged batteries, and Sleeper does not concern itself about storing energy at the moment.”

“How fast can it go?” Alvin laughed as they got out at their destination.

“This ten-thousand foot landing strip would allow Sleeper to reach the top speed of…” Steve turned around and looked at the car with a good imitation of human surprise. “This data is in error. But, this little car insists, above three-hundred miles-per-hour.”

“Bull!” Alvin gasped. “That can’t be true.”

“Agreed, but we will need to get new tires, according to the car. These tires are not able to handle that speed.”

Alvin shook his head and laughed, then opened the door and ushered Steve through the entrance.

Steve Aldin was about to meet the a whole new group of people who had never been anticipated or in any database that he had accessed.

People that might have an answer to his question.

“How do I be free?”

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Sworn Statement

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Sworn Statement

By

Dash McCallen
This is the testimony and sworn statement of Sargon III, Leader of the Clan Ondode, regarding the disaster at Elmer, New Mexico Territories, United States.

As I sit and write this, the images come back to me as if it were yesterday. I will preface this so as to put it in context.

The death of Dracula, Lord of the Vampires, had a chilling effect on the Regents and the High Council, rumors that humans fought back, indeed, several of the best nights of the year, for which all human men and women would hide and congregate in places making it easy to hunt, had now become times of festivities of the world of man– No longer did they fear those of us that prey on them for what they were; Feedstock.

The directive came out in the latter part of the nineteenth century that the Regents had called for a new vote to include the New World clans, not the least of which were the Clans Chupacabra and Manoutou, two of the most powerful of the new world clans, they had petitioned and wanted to be included in the next voting of the High Council. All of the New World clans wanted a vote on who would be the next Lord of Vampires.

It was announced by the Lady Marya, the daughter of the Late Count Dracula, that the Gathering of the Clans would be held in the New World out of respect of the new clans to be included. This was viewed as a positive move to allay fears that the Old World clans were only interested in domination of the New World and to bring peace at the outset of the new Council of Regents. This should avoid the internal strife that Lord Dracula had brought to an end during the times of the Great Defeat, before the Resurgence, what mankind called “The Dark Ages”.

My thrall found that in area of Elmer in the New Mexico Territories of the United States, that a large cave existed that could hold all the clans during the daylight. Thralls would be able to watch over the sleeping Kindred easily. Close by there was a large cattle ranch and several Native American villages, isolated and ready to be used for feeding.

At the commencement of the meetings of the Regents and the New World clans went very well. In the weeks before, the Manoutu and Chupacabra clans showed how easily the day-walkers of this land could be fed on. Clans trained new thralls as the older thralls became more involved in administration of the day-work.

It was at this time that a thrall came back and told of the cattle ranch nearby that was going to have an “All-Hallows-Eve” party there. Many, perhaps five-thousand in all, of the local feedstock were going to be at this gathering, bringing ales and food for everyone, it was reported that the party would last for days. At the first Regents meeting, Lady Marya stepped down as Steward in favor of her brother Luc, Son of Lord Dracula. It was then suggested that the gathering of humans would make a perfect community of thralls to protect the area and bring in new food to those that would stay on at the cave. Wherever those that have wandered and have lost the way in the Old World, it was decided then that this area in the New World would be a sanctuary and home for all of the Kindred.

At that time, no one had suspected the danger to the Council and any of the Kindred. The thralls who would have given warning prior to the disaster were also deceived by the Others.

There was no inclination prior to that night as to the nature of those that were at what the humans called the “Horned-A Ranch” or sometimes referred to as the “No Belly-Acres” to which is still a bit of a mystery to me.

Sighing, the blond-haired male dipped his bone tipped pen into a tiny overturned skull that served as an inkwell. His age was greater than that of Dracula, Lord of the Vampires, but he had no such ambitions or lust of power. Beginning his first life during the human dark ages, he appeared in his early thirty’s. His undead life began when the human populations had declined by a third due to over-predation, laws were passed to save the primary food source for all of the Kindred. as he continued his sworn statement on the events of that terrible night, he felt his throat constrict from the memory of fear.

The first of the week, the hunt went well around the Great Cave. There was feedstock that traveled in groups to the party. Some traveled in small groups, some by pairs. A few larger groups were left alone so as not to alarm the humans at the destination. One location that had used cliff dwellings of the Anasazi, wiped out by the over hunting of the Chupacabra Clan, that a group took shelter for the night where the hunters found them. Several thralls were made, one was embraced as Kindred and the rest were used as needed.

The selection of the High Council came to the final vote. Only the best claims to the seat of Chancellor were left to be heard. Count Dracula had left a legacy that was difficult to fill, some said it would never be filled properly. Others said it was a matter of perception and that a good strong leader would put fear back into the humans and they would no longer have the wish to hunt any on the Night’s Children.

On the night of the Last Day of October, the vote had been made. The announcement of the new Chancellor would be made at the end of the feeding and the decision would be final. Upon the signal of Marya Zaleska, daughter of the Count as her last act as Steward, the host departed the Great Cave and headed out in the night sky to the human gathering. This was the beginning of the end of our civilization as we knew it.

As the Hunting Party arrived at the humans All-Hallows Eve celebration, we mixed with the feedstock, waiting until the Midnight Hour struck to feed. Awk, King of the Clan Ondode, explained to the host of the human party that they were to stay calm as the feeding commenced. The human male who was host of the party, would not bend to the will of my brother. A mental struggle for control ensued with King Awk calling me over to mediate and explain to the human that resistance was pointless

He sighed, rubbed his eyes for a moment, a sound near him drew his attention.

The Regent’s thrall brought a new inkwell made of a small skull of some unidentified creature. He knew it was difficult for Sargon, one day the Kindred would regain the position that was taken from them on that terrible night.

Sargon dipped his pen into the ink and continued writing without looking up.

When I sat at the table, I tried to use my mind to force the male human named ‘Gilbert’ into accepting that he and his party were going to be used and fed upon. This human told us to act as guests and that we would not be allowed to harm anyone. It was then about five minutes to the stroke of Midnight. The time of the feeding for the clans after such a long and arduous meeting.

My brother the King, the great Awk, was among the most physically intimidating of the Old World Wampyr clans. Humans would not look at him directly because of his sheer physical intimidation. He stood over two meters in height and about one-hundred fifty kilograms. Gil, however looked him in the eye and just stated that we were not the most powerful of beings and that the whole of the Gathering were to behave as guests. All of the Old and New World Kindred were welcome if we remained peaceful, but that if anyone of the Hunting Party were to attempt to feed outside of what foot was set out, that is with any guests, they would be dealt with severely.

At this point, Awk was confused. Awk was unable to control the human that he had spoken with and, until that night, I had never met a human that would not be frightened or unmoved by mind control that we possess as all of the Embraced do.

It was at this time that I first felt the unease as to what the humans truly were. Six Wampyre and Chupacabra in the shape of human children sat at the feet of one white-haired human male who was telling them stories as a an adult human would to real children. He leaned on a silver-handled walking stick and had the look of wisdom about him. They selected him as the first of the feeding by those that sat near him.

Wynn, the hostess of the party and Gil’s wife sat at the table. This human I tried to gain control over, only to be rejected so harshly by her mind that it caused me physical pain.

Dipping his pen back into the gall ink, Sargon the III continued writing his testimony after taking a swallow from a golden goblet of thick blood-colored wine, the thought of that agony rebounded in his memory. So long ago, years in fact, but there was no distance enough or time passed enough from that place to where he now sat. His life was down to hunting rodents for sustenance, a few of the Embraced had made forays into hunting of humans again, using thralls to take the punishment in the event that they were found out, but it was a dangerous life due to the vampire hunters, as they called themselves, had been stalking any clan. Many had died at the hands of these humans, many more hid in fear, few felt that they still sat at the top of the food-chain.

Shaking his head at that thought, the once proud Scribe of Regents went back to his discourse of the events. It was the order of the Acting Chancellor of the Council to investigate and try to secure her position at the seat of power, although none of the Regents were truly representing any clan. The power vacuum led to a struggle that haunted all the True Vampire clans.

Sargon just wanted to do as humans did now and again. Get completely drunk and wake up days or weeks later. One thing he had a vague memory of, when Sargon II the Great embraced him after the end of a fight that left a knife in his back, of drunken singing and a lusty women that kept pressing their ample breasts in his face, a faint but good memory.

In that moment, I knew that we had to leave the area. The leader of the Chupacabra, RedNova Du Caudray, who had made herself a seat on the High Council, was in agreement. I tried to get my King to come with us, but he was in a contest of wills with the human host of the party, I had to strike him across the back of the head to get his attention. He was so engrossed on forcing the human to submit he no longer took notice that the human was not even paying attention to the Great Awk. I tried to warn others to leave the party, but the hour struck and the feast of the new Regents had begun, what our history would record as the single greatest disaster that led to the genocide of almost all of the Nights Children.

The first attack my Sire, Rednova Du Caudray and I witnessed. Six of the small Wampyre and Chupacabra that sat at the foot of this human-looking male had leaped up at him with fangs and claws out. Those Kindred appeared to dissipate as smoke does in a wind. Later this was found to be the Angel of Death, one of the Others.

Sargon shuddered, reaching for his goblet that the Thrall from the High Council kept filling with wine. After a gulp, Sargon returned to the paper.

What should have been an easy kill, one of the Lilu clan launched himself at a small female, and he was grabbed by the throat and held at arms-length by the human who then showed her true colors. She proved  she was not human by opening her mouth as an alligator and swallowed that Hunter whole. I learned this was Abaddon, King of the Demons, never has there been record or mention of Angels or Demons among us before this night.

I witnessed another Kindred thrown through a wall by another human that was not human, opening a hole that King Awk, Lady RedNova and myself escaped out of. We attacked no one and told every one of the Clans to flee. Several heeded our words, many were struck down.

We ran and made our way out the back of the farm and between large barrel-stands of wine and beer. We watched attacks against the hostess of the party, Wynn Bron, who spread wings of an Angel and she fought alongside three demons, slaughtering their way through a group of the Hunting Party. Running, we changed form to burrow creatures and escaped to fields nearby. We made our way to a depression in the land and out of site of the demons and angels. Against my advice, Awk became a bat and tried to fly away, only to explode into ashes as a great bolt of light struck him as he took to the air.

Sargon put down the bone-tipped pen,picked up his royal cup and swallowed wine, feeling the effect of the liquor, he turned back to his account of the disaster.

Lady Du Caudray stayed with me as we left the killing behind and returned to the Great Cave hours later, just before dawn. Of the Gathering, entire Clans did not return. Chupacabra Clan was reduced to less than a score of members. No one of the Wendigo clan returned to the cave, of the powerful Clan Dracul, only Marya remains. I am now the leader of the Clan Ondode, few of us survive and out of a total of seven-thousand Kindred that attended, fewer than thirty survived that night. The Clan Chupacabra and the Clan Ondode are to combine, there is no more that can be done.

Sighing, if a vampire could cry, he would have flooded his castle. His mate, the Lady RedNova Du Caudray, Empress of the Clan Chupacabra, put her hand on his shoulder.

“You have finished and the sun also rises. Sign it and send it away, beloved.”

Sargon nodded and put the pen to paper.

This is my sworn testimony of the true events witnessed by me on the Night Of Death on Samhain for all Kindred.

ROYAL SEAL

Royal Seal of the Ondode

Royal Seal of the Ondode

Signed ,

Sargon III, King of the Ondode

Snowed: The Weekend Trip

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless from the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs, smudged and dust-covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a competitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider again. In one instant, he took the chance and pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

Married by Mistake Chapter 57. News Channel Gone Dark

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Chapter 57. News Channel Gone Dark

In her apartment, every moment Kaylee spent outside of class, her computer logged in and a bluetooth connection to her television to watch it with her sister.

Melanie paced around the apartment in agitation. The news website out of Singapore at first uploaded the few still images and fewer videos had no recent enough updates to calm her irritation.

One high-quality video, the news reporter explained that Singapore authorities detained an American, Thomas Harte, while they investigated the charges that he smuggled marijuana bundled for transportation and a bottle of unknown liquid that investigators suspected as a narcotic. Cleared of drug-use by medical examination, the prosecutor planned to use the reports against him in a court and prosecute the United States Citizen as a smuggler.

‟He was cleared by a blood check? How can they use that he was clean against him?” Melanie said.

‟There, it said it. If he had it in possession and he’s clean, they know he was trafficker.” Kaylee held both hands to her tear-streaked face.

‟I’ve called Lettie, she called the government here. I talked with a lawyer that Lettie set me up with, he will set me up with the state department and we will see if there is any help I can do.” Kaylee said.

‟How can you help?”

‟The stash was mine.” Kaylee said. ‟It was in with my massage oil. I know that’s what they are calling as narc-oil.”

‟You left it? In his plane?” Melanie clapped her hand to her forehead. ‟You never planned to stay with Glenn.”

‟I, uh…” Kaylee stammered, then her temper flared. ‟Screw you.”

That just made Melanie the Monster and kid sister laugh harder.

‟You say that and that means I’m right. Tom got you to love him.” She smiled at her sister and poked her older Kaylee over her heart. “He writes about airship pirates, but he is the King of Pirates who stole your heart. Thomas Harte is a thief of hearts.”

 ‟Shut up, Melanie or I’ll tell mom.” In an empty threat. “And don’t poke me.”

Melanie quieted down and giggled for several minutes.

‟I’ll need to tell the State Department that Tom and I had gotten married and then annulled.” Kaylee rubbed her forehead. ‟Dad will poop a pinecone.”

‟Yeah, a whole tree of them.” Melanie smiled, but her tone was sad. ‟You know those crazy paparazzi with cameras will be here. You won’t be able to walk or drive to classes.”

‟I’ll live on campus then.”

‟The wait list is two years long, you won’t get a place until after you graduate.” Melanie shook her head. ‟If you tell the State Department, you can save him, but you will lose your chance to graduate in peace. The photographers will be all over you like flies on a dead fish.”

‟What…?” Kaylee interrupted. “Mel, the feed just went down. Just have a four-zero-four ‟Not Found” code.”

‟Just go back a page.”

‟I did, Online Network News only has other countries in the menu, Singapore is not there. Not even weather.”

‟Wierd. Try alternate news feeds.” Melanie suggested and sat next to her sister at the computer.

‟Okay.” Kaylee typed in the addresses of the different sources.

‟Those are old images we’ve seen. Tom might be free. Oh!” Kaylee smiled. ‟Lettie has sent an email.”

Then the excitement turned into crestfallen defeat.

‟She says Tom’s locked up in jail, Singapore police have confiscated his passport. She looked at the laws, sent me the link.” Kaylee clicked on the highlighted text. ‟That is harsh. He might get ten-years for the weed and forfeit all his possessions and death penalty is mandatory for the narc-oil.”

Melanie looked at her sister.

‟Death? But that is only aromatherapy oil, right? That essence of rosemary I gave you for your birthday.” She shook her head. “And they took… His plane?”

Melanie kept reading over Kaylee’s shoulder.

A phone rang, and both sisters looked at their phones before Kaylee picked it up.

‟Hello? Yes. Yes, at home. Yes. Las Vegas, three weeks ago. My address is…” Kaylee looked down off the balcony. ‟You know where I am? Yes. Right away? I’ll be here.”

‟That was the lawyer. He and a State Department rep are on their way.‟ Looking down, ‟Oh… Drat! I need to get dressed in something nicer than my t-shirt and jeans.”

‟At least put on a bra. You’re kind of on point since you have been on the phone.” Melanie pointed out.

‟What! ACK!” Kaylee squawked and ran to her room to change clothes, covering her chest up with her hands.

‟Why did you cover and run? It’s only me.” Melanie laughed again. The younger sister enjoyed when the elder stressed out.

‟Oh my god! Omygodomygod I can’t find what to wear.” Sounds in her bedroom echoed as she slammed drawers and closet doors.

‟Wear your dark green skirt, boots and your black silk blouse with the pocket.”

‟You borrowed my skirt last month for the class interviews, have you brought it back?”

‟No, it’s in my laundry.”

‟Crap. Mellie, help, I am in a panic, I need some advice.”

‟Okay, black skirt?”

‟Yes, past my knee. Heeled boots, black silk blouse and the gray jacket.

‟Yeeaah… I would leave the jacket.” Melanie said and looked out the window. ‟It’s too hot to dress in those extra layers.”

‟Yeah. Yeah… I will meet with some important people, I don’t want them to think I am just a college kid.”

‟Well. You are, and he is a lot older, you might not get away without that label in their minds, then they would say it.” Melanie mused as she helped her sister adjust the collar on the blouse.

‟I don’t know what to say.” Kaylee said and walked out of the room. ‟The lawyer will be here in a moment.”

‟Okay. Okay.” Melanie said as the sibling turned around. ‟Okay, you look good. Wait, did you put a bra on?” Another squeak of profanity from her Kaylee who disappeared into her room again.

A short few minutes and she was ready. The sisters opened the door to walk down to the sidewalk and both sisters screamed in surprise.

Four men stood in the hallway, two in military uniform in places on either side of the door. Two in civilian office clothing, one looked like he had swallowed some vile drink.

‟Miss Grant?” The dark-skinned man held out a hand. ‟I’m Beyron Ferguson, attorney at law. The G.I. Joe here is the secretary of the local state department office, Maxwell Silverham.” he indicated the sour-faced man.

‟Local?” Melanie said. ‟I didn’t know we had a local one.”

‟And you are?” Beyron said.

‟She is my sister, Melanie Grant. I would like to have her here while you interrogate me. Should I get a lawyer?”

‟Please call me Max.” The older white-haired man said. ‟No you don’t need a lawyer, and local is a relative term Miss Grant.” He nodded with a smile to Melanie.

‟May I get you a glass of water?” Kaylee asked.

‟No, thank you.” Max said. ‟May we sit?”

Motioning to the breakfast table, they all took a seat while Beyron pulled out a notepad.

‟For the record Miss Grant… Kaylee. I am your attorney, appointed by the Attorney General of the United States, pro-bono. That is no charge to you.” Beyron explained to the two women. “I will give you advice, but I will do what you ask, even finding a replacement if I do not fulfill my job to your satisfaction. Mister Silverham here is the government investigator in charge. He would like to ask about your relationship with Thomas Harte who is now in custody in Singapore and will stand trial for drug possession in the next few days. This is not a criminal investigation, but I am here to protect your rights in any event his questions stray into private areas that are not relevant. If at any time you wish to stop talking with Mister Silverham, we will bring this to an end. Do you understand all that?”

Kaylee nodded.

‟Before we start,” Max said, ‟What is your relationship with this author who seems to lack a street address.”

Kaylee held hands with her sister and relaxed, she felt more confident than ever and explained the events of the past summer.

Married by Mistake Chapter 55. World Online News Network

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Chapter 55. World Online News Network

Kaylee watched as raw feeds from Singapore online news scrolled across her screen. The sisters watched images of a man, escorted out of an airport in handcuffs.

“Authorities state they have arrested an accused drug smuggler and sources have stated, a known murderer from the United States. Although the name was withheld by authorities until they verify the suspected drug smuggler’s identity.” The talking head on the tv narrated while the video and images shifted on the screen.

But Kaylee recognized the airplane on which they captured this dangerous human being.

It was Tom.

Melanie’s boyfriend found a raw news feed web-site then used a cable to plug the tv into his tablet and they all watched the image display titled that an accused rich drug smuggler stand trial.

They tried to turn up the sound on the video but that did not help, the three of them did not understand the language, but the subtitles gave the story. While she watched the feeds on the TV, Kaylee held her hands to her face with tears in her eyes.

She knew where she forgotten her misplaced stash.

The Pacific Wizard, in the bedroom dresser on her side, second drawer from the bottom with her blindfold to help her sleep and aromatherapy oils. She closed her eyes and imagined what version of hell that a foreign drug smuggler’s life is like.

*And it’s not even Tom’s.* Her heart stood still. *Legal here, what are the penalties in that country?*

“What are the laws in, where’s he at? Singapore?” Kaylee asked.

Arthur, Melanie’s boyfriend rubbed his forehead in thought.

“Severe. They execute for drugs there that we have legalized.”

Kaylee looked out the window at the bay, to the west there was the horizon. She wished with all her heart she could fly over the horizon and rescue the man who suffered because of her.

*I wonder if he is safe?*

In a dusty jail in Singpore, sat a citizen of the United States. He was so exhausted he struggled to remember his own name.

Tom. His name was Tom. He had been awake so long, his deepest memories were fuzzy.

His books, a pirated movie that made the rounds and the assurances from the United States Ambassador had done little to help his state of mind.

He had just survived twenty-four hours of interrogation at the police station and Tom fretted like a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He sat alone at a table while police and prosecutors paraded in front of the judge and the narration cryptic law was in English, the direction taken by Singapore jurisprudence was obvious. 

“They are about to do what they do best,” A dapper-mannered man sat in front of him. “Crush an individual found with drugs and obscene devices. The blindfold that they found they will consider as evidence of a crime, your statement to the inspector that you smuggle women will compound your case.”

“You have passed blood and urine drug tests, you are clean except for medications for those you have prescriptions for. In other words, you are clean and not a user.” The lawyer read from a paper without a smile.

Tom relaxed as he heard this from his hastily appointed legal advisor, but then it took a decidedly dark turn when the lawyer held his hand up as Tom began to smile when he heard about his clean test results.

‟If you do not use the drugs, then you are a smuggler.”

‟No. That means I did not partake. They found it in a drawer, inside a woman’s toiletry bag that had a blindfold to help her sleep and I don’t know what else.”

‟Ah yes. And how did you know of the blindfold, and the drugs. Where is this woman?” The lawyer asked his client.

Tom looked into the face of the blue-eyed British legal esquire that practiced in Singapore.

Robert Mitch was born of English parents when Singapore was a colony of the Empire, left the country for England to get his legal degree and then became a lawyer in the busy center of business and crime. Over the years as he worked for defense of tourists that ran afoul of the law and their families, he often charged exorbitant fees.

They almost always paid the prices he often asked, the large income even allowed him to bribe the occasional official to look the other way while evidence vanished.

He smiled when he read the legal charges.

*This case promises a large payday! This client is a rich American!*

‟She is probably in California, I last saw her in Oregon.”

“She’s a prostitute then? Marijuana is legal in Oregon, yes? So, we can argue that the drugs were there, without your knowledge in a place where it is a legal drug.” He scribbled down notes on a yellow pad. “That will help. The obscene violations will also be investigated, we will argue that she brought the drugs on board without your knowledge. But I assure you that won’t matter.”

It was Tom’s turn to hold up his hand.

‟She is not a prostitute, she’s a friend and we had…” Tom paused. ‟A relationship. But it’s over now.”

‟Is she still alive?” Robert asked. “You’ve a reputation as a lady-killer that got away with the crime.”

‟What the f…” Tom exploded and was unable to speak for a moment. “What kind of question is that?”

‟The kind they will ask you in the investigation.” He looked at Tom. ‟The prosecutor is good at his job to put anyone in jail with drug charges. Right now they are have a court’s order for a thorough search your plane. Down to the last bolt.”

‟What does that mean?” Tom asked.

‟They will to take it apart to look for hidden compartments. Do you have any on board?”

‟I have a safety box, has legal papers in it. I would wish those to stay private.”

“In the course of investigation, no secret of yours will remain a secret or private.” Robert shook his head. ‟If the papers are on the plane, they will become part of the investigation and evidence to show the judge. What is on those papers?”

‟Jesus. Annulment papers.” Tom held his head in his hands. ‟Just annulment papers. We got married when she’d gotten stoned. Then it ended.”

‟So you drugged her into actions against her will?” Robert wrote on his pad of paper again.

‟NO! No no. Oh good God!” Tom nearly fainted. Even his defense lawyer was not on his side. “No, that’s all wrong. Not how it was.”

‟This is how they’ll present the investigation, in light of the reports about your family. Some archives say you might have had a hand in their deaths.” Robert shook his head and opened a local English language newspaper and showed it to his client. “Mr. Harte, at this point, if you want to keep your head out of the noose, I recommend you to not mention, at all, the circumstances of this annulment. You got married, it did not work out, it’s over.”

‟The noose? How about I stay out of prison?” Tom said in a panicked tone.

‟To be honest.” Robert put his pen down and looked at Tom. ‟There is not a strong hope for that at the moment. You were found with almost five-hundred grams of marijuana. This area is known to grow copious amounts of the weed. This is worth a life sentence, confiscation of your plane and seizure of any drug money. And report on the oil that was found is still not back yet. They will treat it as marijuana resin or hash oil for the moment. If tests show it is, in fact, a hashish oil? With the weed you already had on board, that is a mandatory death penalty and they will hang you. By this time next month, they will send you back to the states in a box.”

‟The oil, I don’t know, it might be a massage oil. Drug money. There is no money on that plane, just what was in my pocket.”

The lawyer stared at Tom for a long moment. He picked up his phone and dialed a number.

“It’s Robert Mitch. Yes, with the American now. Yes, that is what I have called about, thank you. It is? Thank you, again.” The lawyer broke the connection and looked back at Tom. “Good news, the oil is a mineral oil with traces of eucalyptus and rosemary in it.”

Tom and Robert both took a deep breath.

“That would have been a death-penalty, be assured of that.” Robert added. ‟Mr. Harte, You need someone who is local on your side before this goes any further. What is the reason you are in Singapore Mr. Harte?” Robert wrote down his question.

‟Tom, please, call me Tom.”

‟No, I don’t think so.” Robert said in a calm tone that did not reassure Tom and only increased his anxiety. ‟I don’t do that, it is a matter of respect. And while friendship lets someone call another by first names, we are not friends. I work for you and the courts and it’s not proper business otherwise.”

‟So,” Robert continued. “I ask again, why are you in Singapore?”

‟I was about to meet with someone to get my books published, perhaps printed here and maybe have a movie funded. Lee Kong Kuen, is his name.”

‟Lee Kong Kuen,” Robert froze in mid-scribble and looked up. “The Mr. Lee who-has-more-money-than-god, Mr. Lee?

‟Yes.” Tom said. ‟That’s him. Why?”

Robert sat up and his eyes wide, his price to charge the witless Yankee just reduced to a normal fee. If it became known that Robert gouged a business partner of Lee Kong Kuen? Mr. Lee would do things to Robert that were too hideous to think about.

Perspiration broke out on the lawyer’s forehead as he fumbled for his thoughts.

‟Maybe, you’ve a chance to get the hell out of this country if this hits the news.” Robert said, he became highly motivated to win. ‟Once it goes public, then this will back the law into a corner and motivate them to release you, it would make them look bad and cost them a great deal of money. Whether bribed, blackmailed or bro-manced for favors. No matter what punishment they would impose.”

‟Bro-manced?” Tom looked at his lawyer.

‟It has become a recent term here to describe favors the leaders here go through. It comes, I think, from an American tv comedy that is popular here.” Robert said. ‟I think you Yanks call it a ‟good old boy” system” and it works on a daily basis here.”

‟Let’s get it done then. Faster we can get me out of here, the better.”

Robert’s phone chirped and he looked at the text display.

‟Mister Harte, I think we need to turn on the tv.”

What Tom saw, made his jaw drop. A news story showed him as a prisoner escorted out of the airport.

‟Tom, you need talk to Mister Lee, right away.” Robert grimaced. ‟It may already be too late, if he feels you are a petty smuggler, he will not help you. But, if he will help, this will just evaporate in a second. Just assure me, that marijuana is not yours.”

‟Not mine.” Tom said. “I truly did not know it was there. I am here on business only, writer’s busines. I want to get my children’s stories published here in this part of the world.”

‟Fine, I will do all that I can to get you out of this. But with your nationality as an American and first time here? And if I can get the charges dropped?” Robert looked directly at his client. ‟You get on that big damned plane of yours, push the throttles all the way forward and get your red-white-and-blue butt out of Singapore. No stops, no explores, no Indiana Jones adventure-seeker games.”

‟Could I come back?” Tom wondered out loud. “For business?”

‟Well, you can, if you wish. But my advice, not for a couple of years.” The lawyer nodded. ‟And then, it would be bloody good to take my advice, do not have so much as a crumb of a drug nearby.”

Outside, Liem Han sat in the shade near his motorbike, waited for this rich American to come out so he could take more photos and video.

“Come out, Yankee, you will make me rich.”

It was a good day to be a photographer.

Married by MIstake Chapter 30. Tears and Smiles

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Chapter 30. Tears and Smiles

‟I’m glad you are out of the hospital, I couldn’t wait for us to get back to the Wizard.” Kaylee sat down on the floor, next to the chair he kept his arm on. ‟But, I signed the papers and sent them off when I was here. You had two sets, one to send and one to keep. I signed both sets so we can keep them on file here.”

With a sigh, he nodded.

‟So, we are no longer married as soon as the clerk of the court signs and stamps it. You did it how I told you to do it?”

‟I’m so sorry. But I have to get home outside of Portland, Glenn is asking for me. My sister says he is going to ask me to marry him.” Kaylee couldn’t help the tear that ran down her face as she sniffled.

‟Oh, poop.” She gave a sad laugh. “I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.”

‟Yeah.” Tom choked on the knot in his throat. ‟I knew this day would come. The month is up.”

Kaylee rested her chin on his knee.

‟If it makes you feel any better, I almost shredded the papers. You have been better than Glenn has ever been,” She took a big breath. “But I grew up with him and we have planned to marry each other as far back as I can remember. He asked me to marry him at my sixth birthday party. He wrote it in a birthday card, in crayon.”

Tom laughed. “Do you still have it?”

‟Don’t laugh. But yes.” Kaylee bit him gently on the knee. ‟It’s silly, I know. He has also been a bit of a butthead and stupid over all the years. Once he’d gotten drunk, fell into a pool,  sank like a stone and I had to save him. We have history.”

‟And we don’t?” Tom sounded more harsh than he intended. ‟In the last month, we have set new records that even newlyweds everywhere would dream of.”

‟Not fair. You have an advantage. Not many men get married and fly away on their own jet plane. Fewer still can write a children’s series like you have.” Kaylee shook her head as she named off Tom’s points. ‟You have more than most college students, and that is what Glenn is, a college student. That’s what I am. And you are a rogue, an explorer. You are a pirate! A Steam-Punk King Pirate who has stolen my heart, but I have a promise to keep.”

‟You made that promise when you were all of six-years-old. I’m not so sure that might count.” Tom nodded.

‟Does a promise have a lower age limit?”

‟Uh. No, I suppose not.” Tom was not wanting to pick a fight like that. “A promise is a promise.”

‟No. My father always told me a promise is something to keep. Things change, say if Glenn was gay or I died in a plan crash.” Kaylee gave him a  playful sock on the thigh. ‟Then that voids the promise. But we are still alive and I can assure you Glenn is hetero, fully hetero.”

‟Okay.” Tom slouched in the chair. The stress of the last eighteen-days exhausted him. ‟You have always been my first concern. I held on to the hope you would decide to give us more of a try. Even now, I see you are not sure.”

‟No… no. No, I’m not sure. You have made me mad a few times since the first morning. But it was an exciting mad. You are a maddening, wonderful, frustrating, crazy, super-smart guy that makes me want to pull out all your chest hair.” Kaylee and Tom laughed at the same time. ‟And I would love to stay here.”

‟But?”

‟But I have to at least try to keep my promise.”

‟Agreed.” Tom nodded. Upset as he was, it actually helped to talk to her.

Kaylee also nodded.

First and always she would be friends with Tom and she knew he put her first. She would always put him first, except for the promise she made Glenn.

The promise of a six-year-old girl to the boy she grew up with.

Taking Tom by his good arm, she pulled him to the bedroom in the back of the plane.

‟For now, however, I am STILL your wife and you have neglected me.”

‟Oh! Doctor Kaylee , I’ve been occupied. Perhaps you have heard of this minor wound I suffered. I had to take a stitch or three to get a smaller scar.”

‟Well, I have the cure for you to forget that ache for a while.” Winking and pulling him as she walked backwards.

In the last few days, she had not realized that the tension she had building in her was a jet engine about to blow a gasket.

Now that she thought of it, there was more than a gasket she was going to blow.

The night in the plane was somewhat louder than it had been in the last ten days.

The world would envy, and sometimes pity, the husband that night. Kaylee did things to Thomas Harrison Harte that became legend in his mind and illegal in forty states and Washington, D.C.

In the end, Kaylee laughed harder than she had in the last few days.

The Failed Getaway

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The Failed Getaway

A short story by Dash McCallen

Bodies had piled up around his farm. Malam Plando’s farm was a garden of horrors anywhere the police dug into the ground.

In the end, charged with sixty-two separate counts of murder, it was common thought he had a list longer than the investigators discovered.

His trial lasted over a year.

The Verdict?

Guilty.

Sentence?

Death.

In the six-months after his conviction and his move to Death Row, his turn came. Few people who the courts convicted in recent decades, executions happened quickly. Three appeals, expedited to last no more than two months.

He, it was his name and he was about to scream it out loud in laughter.

Inmate number 1854X-195S5-1-31E walked with confidence to the execution chamber. In a glass-walled room with blinds obscuring the view to the chamber beyond, the guards assigned to his restraint, wordlessly strapped him to a padded, vertical board.

With some effort they rotated him and the board so that he was in a supine position.

*Taking the last bit of dignity I have*

He shook his head.

*Idiots. They don’t even know what is coming.*

Two days before, his wife paid a visit to him for one last “Conjugal” visit.

His brother passed on to him in a video stored in her phone.

“Courage brother! When they think they come for you, we have an answer.”

He laughed.

*The left strap is already loose, it won’t be hard get the arm out.*

A chill from the sterile swab then the sharp sting when the technician stuck the IV catheter in the antecubetal space of his left arm.

Dark humor. They were thinking he was going to die, why did they use a sterile technique?

“Do you have any last words?” A disembodied voice sounded and the blinds opened, revealing a crowd sitting in the gallery.

“Yeah. I’m a little thirsty. When you get the call, I want my water with light ice.”

The sound clicked off and for a moment, the room was quiet except for the sound of his cardiac monitor. An old style display that gave off a mosquito-like whine that he could hear.

He could see a different color fluid creep down towards his arm.

They already began the execution and the clock…

It ticked past the time, they were late! His rescue was not coming!

Then the lights went out, only the setting sun slanted through the high windows in the chamber.

Malam opened his eyes, they did not focus properly for a moment, but there was no noise.

The tubing in his arm pinched slightly when he scratched his nose.

Then Malam blinked.

His arm was free! Someone had released the strap when the techs and guards fled during the blackout.

*Cowards.*

*But I have not heard any alarms. Some of the drug ran into my arm put me to sleep for a little while.*

Malam grinned.

*People thought I died when the power went out.*

Laughing, the thought of his walking out of the room when no one was looking tickled his soul.

He already had plans for the judges and their families as he stalked the hallway down to where the body-hauler would park.

Darkness in the hallways, only the sunlight from the outside filtered in, it was odd, not even the guards were around, prisoners were gone, too.

*There must have been a hell of a scare to evacuate the other inmates.*

And the gates were open, no doors locked.

As promised, Malam walked free, laughing at the power outage orchestrated by his family and caused the sheep to run frightened.

Even the prisoners bolted, maybe even taken by bus, but no matter.

*Screw them all! I’m free, next stop, where Judge Alkar Chronqui’s family was. I’ll break into the home and put his head.*

Malam looked around and frowned, someone might see him cut across the field towards town, but the power was out and the sun set. Darkness was coming and dark thoughts on his first in town grew in his mind.

Malam smiled, it would be full dark before he got through the open area and to the city park to his cache where he hid his kit of tape, knives, drugs, rope and energy bars.

*The drugs would have expired, I can’t use them on my clients, it might kill them.*

More laughter as he covered the ground towards town when he kicked something in the tall grass and tripped.

A body!

eviscerated, still steaming when he stood up. The coppery smell of blood came from his prison issue shirt.

He was covered in blood.

“Gawd Dayuam! Dey’s comin’ outta de groun’s Ostus! Der’s anudder one! Git ‘im!”

He sqautted down, fishing around the body, looking for a weapon of any kind.

The sound of a baseball bat sounded in his ears. A sound of a grunt, a wheeze of a death rattle, he realized that whoever it was had not seen him.

He crawled through the grass carefully, towards the voices.

His heart was standing still, his breath was wheezing in his ears as he got closer to the voices.

If he could get a jump on them, what a wonderful twist of irony, he could kill someone killing someone.

He could see the top if their heads. They carried bats with nails driven into the fat end.

“No’ so easy ta make a soun’ wit yer throat stuck full’a holes, ain’tit a bish!”

The sounds of thumping and the bloody fluids made a mist. Malam could smell the blood in the air and it excited him.

Malam struck, leaping up and grabbing the first one, called Ostus.

His hands were stronger than he thought when he broke Ostus’ neck, taking the bat, he broke the head of the other wannabe killer.

But the look Ostus and his partner had when he came up, bloodied and muddy, they acted as if they saw the dead rising from the graves.

Malam laughed, carrying the bat with him, he walked off towards the town. He saw another man stand up, also wearing standard-issue.

“Thanks, they were doing everyone from the prison.” The darkness hid the convicts eyes, but they glittered with a mixture of anger and fear. “I want to kill the judge for putting me in there. Then find each and every one of the jurors. I’ve not seen anyone for years, they don’t come to visit.”

“Let’s go. What were you in for?”

“They said I was a cannibal. I was not, they were chewed on by rats.” The pair moved towards the town. “I’m N’oi.”

“Malam. What kind of name is N’oi?”

“What kind of name is Malam?”

“It means Evil. It is what my mother called me.” Malam shrugged and the pair moved off into the dark.

A cop car, the officers were looking at something when the pair stepped out from behind the trees.

Malam gasped at the cops when they turned towards the pair’s approach.

Blood stained their faces and soaked the dark uniforms in a slick that glistened in the dark with coagulated blood.

One officer chewed on an object that looked like a forearm, the other had a foot.

Frozen in their steps,  and the officers saw them and dropped the nightmare snacks and walked towards Malam and N’oi.

Looking at his fellow escapee, the huge convict stood there, drooling, his skin ashen and made no other human sound.

Then N’oi looked at him with eyes that were all wrong, then reached out to Malam with hunger and a snarl.

Malam crushed N’oi’s head with the bat in a single swing and took off in a run. Leaving the cop-things to ponder over the body he left behind, Malam fled to the park.

He sat at the base of a tree he had marked long ago and dug with his hands.

*Those cops… I’ve never seen anyone do that before. That was crazy! Holy crap. Cannibals? Shit! Shit! Shit!*

And he could outrun them with the power of fear.

*That’s another thing that’s bat-shit crazy, cops can run and they do not give up. And… Where the hell is everyone?*

Roads were empty, not a single car to wave down. The town would be quiet at the late hour, but this was a total absense of driven vehicles.

Grimacing at the cold shirt that stuck against his body with clotted blood and made him shiver.

*I need a fresh change of clothes.*

Bodies in the park were milling around, a part of the late summer evening with no power anywhere. He could kill one and take the shirt.

*No, first get the hell out of sight and raid the laundromat. No chance of blood on clothes.*

He slipped through the door, among the quiet machines in the dark of the community laundry.

Looking in through the clear windows into the machines, many held suds and water. A few were dry.

One opened when he pulled on the handle and he found two polo shirts and a hoodie sweatshirt.

As he dressed, he disposed of the bloody mess of a prison uniform shirt and found a pair of jeans that fit.

*A little tight, but they will loosen up some.*

He turned around, a person sat in the corner with their back to him.

He slipped out and looked at her in the light of the rising moon that filtered through the glass. He thought he recognized the heavy-set girl by tattoos of roses on her neck.

It was a memory, like a faded photograph from long ago. She had died pleading that she was pregnant while Malam tied a plastic bag over her head.

*No. Impossible, she is long dead. Part of my collection.*

Malam ran through the shadows of the street, heading to the middle of town. Shuffling people began to follow him. Some chewed on finger-food.

*They’re eating real fingers! The insane asylum must have had a break out!*

He almost screamed when he heard another scream nearby. A man’s voice pleading to anyone for help.

He ran around the corner away from the sound, looking over his shoulder and made sure no one followed him.

And into the middle of it.

*Damned echos!*

Bloodied, shredded. The burly man used the broken picket of a fence as a make-shift weapon.

*Damned good use of a stick!* Malam nodded.

The street fighter turned to throw a walking winged nightmare onto the steel pickets of an iron gate when he spotted Malam.

“Shot! gun! Get the Damned shotgun!” He pointed with the stick at the dropped weapon, surrounded by shells of ammunition.

A scream and he fell over a curb when he backed up from the force of the mob attack by the black bat-winged things.

Malam scooped up the scattergun and cleared the chamber, stuffed two shells into the receiver and turned the weapon to the mass of bodies where screams of battle filled the black sky.

“That all you got! Take this! AAAH! Bite me! Bite this!”

The shotgun bucked in Malam’s hands scattering bat-wings and black flesh while he racked in another round.

Second shot freed the big fighting man.

The tatters of his shirt were a uniform.

*Cop!?* Malam shook his head. *I saved a cop.*

The officer tried to take another step and looked down and screamed again, this time with the sound of a man who knew the unthinkable.

The left leg was denuded of flesh below the knee, two bones stuck out were the creatures chewed off his leg. The look of a man resigned, he was bleeding to death.

“Run!” He yelled at Malam. “Too late for me, get out of here.”

*Don’t tell me twice!* Malam ran with his pockets full of shotgun shells and the big pump-action weapon out in front of him.

His last view was some creature that looked like a cat out of someone’s nightmare on the cops head and chewed while the one-legged man fought like a whirlwind of fists.

Then one fist.

The last Malam saw as he turned the corner was a pile of wings where the cop had been.

*Now where the hell to go?*

The police department would be a good place to go, someplace safe!

*Yeah, right.*

Malam walked around the corner towards the center of town and watched a woman fall under the attack of a pack of skeletonized dogs.

*Okay. Police station, good choice. No one will check on me while this shit goes on!*

He turned and ran to the one place he swore he would never go back to.

He ran headlong into the glass doors— Locked!

*Locked? When the hell does a police station lock doors?*

A noise behind him! A group of creatures followed his movements on the steps.

In front of the group, he he recognized the lesbian couple, his first hunt!

*No. Not possible.* He shook his head. *Damn, stop thinking and run! I have to run! What is happening with the world?*

A car, an ancient Ford with the door open sat on the side of the street, he could mess with that and get it started.

Savage panic set in, Malam ran.

He could see more creatures, a cat with eight-legs coming out of the shadows looked at him and screamed his name!

No, not out of the shadows, out of the ground! It lifted up a manhole cover and crawled out of the sewers.

Panting and sweating like a horse. He stopped in the middle of a park, but not a park, it was the rural cemetery.

*How the hell did I get here?* He needed to get back to the center of town, steal a cop car if he needed! He counted the shells to the shotgun. *Twenty. Twenty shells plus six in the magazine and one in the pipe. Not enough. Son of a bitch.*

A cold hand grabbed him from a bush, feeling for a pulse? He was on no one’s menu!

He forgot his shotgun, the mind of the murderer had only one thought.

*Run!*

He pulled his hand free- or did it let go?

It did not matter, he ran! Out of the ground they came towards him. He recognized them. People he cut up, ran over, burned.

He needed to find tools! Break into a shed or a hardware store if need be.

They were coming, sibilant sounds of horrors that crawled in the bushes, wheezes of these creatures that stumbled, shuffled, walked towards him.

*Fuck! I gotta to run!*

From behind, naked cats with eight-arms that ended in black hands and needle-sharp claws, screamed like the tortured victims of his shop, leapt and swung from trees and crawled like giant spiders over headstones.

Into the darkness Malam Plando ran, chased by familiar faces of walking dead, creatures from nightmares he never had.

His mind broke while he ran with the screams that echoed long and loud in the long-dark night.

****

The execution chamber of the prison, unused for so long, no one could remember how seating was arranged. The sun slanting in blinded some, overheated the room and it was stuffy and awkward.

The witnesses watched the last breath of Malam Plando.

“I hope he is in Hell and suffers a thousand deaths for each one he committed.” The father of a princess who he gave away to another princess at the two women’s wedding.

Turning and walking out. Yor Bas’chet got his wish in ways he never knew.

Doctor Drake checked for a lack of pulse to match the flatline on the screen nodded then paused.

“I would swear he pulled against my hand.” The doctor leaned over and looked into the dead prisoner’s eyes. “He was a coward in the end, look at the fear on his face, the jaw set and lips pulled back as if he was about to scream, eyes wide open. I’d say he was afraid to die.”

“Good for him.” The guard said. “Coroner is here. Let them take him out now.”

“Good, have him sent to Doctor Sherlock Quincy, I want him autopsied. Someone like this needs to be studied, we will slice his brain up and study it.”

“You’re the doc, Doc.” The Lieutenant nodded and made a notation on the notepad.

In the core of the world, Malam became aware someone spoke of cutting him apart.

*Fuck that! I gotta hide.*

Malam Plando continued to run.

Why I Care About Likes and Follows

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Amen to this! I have been building slowly.  Too slowly, according to the rolling eyes of the Mrs. “You should just quit and go do something constructive.  Go on pooper-scooper patrol.”

But I keep going, I cannot stop writing. Even if I am boring.

Source: Why I Care About Likes and Follows

Married by Mistake Chapter 23. Realization

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Chapter 23. Realization

She sat in the window seat while Tom slept. It was a strange emotion. She felt empowered, Kaylee looked out the window while Tom slept. He was unaware of the conflict that had just happened between her and the publisher, she needed to tell him that his agent came in and she chased the woman and her broom out of the hospital.

Kaylee ’s heart raced with the adrenalin rush of the collision between her and the business woman who drove Tom to write while in bed and at all waking hours.

Between the machines that beeped and sterile smells, she realized that Tom would not come home from the hospital in time to sign the annulment, she would be married when she went home in the next two weeks.

*Maybe.* She shook her head. *Drat!*

*Why is it, it seems that the world wants me with Tom?* She bit her nails for a moment. Falling back on a bad habit. *In my dreams, I’ve always painted a life with Glenn, I imagined it with all the glitter and hues of happiness. A life of birds, forests, even nights were adventures. Now it is going to pieces faster than I can think, this past three weeks has been fun, but it has been a blur. I don’t know what else to do.*

She ran the memories through her head like a movie, looking for something that she had done right for a change.

All of the memories ended in a rough landing in a river, then Tom’s injury while he carried a large piece of glass out of the plane, alone like a foolish human male when service crews surrounded him after she left and went back to Ocean Bay. It became apparent that he was fortunate that people were there. If he had been alone?

*I could be his widow.* She blocked that out. *I don’t want to think about that.*

As soon as she found about his accident, she felt compelled to come be by his side, to answer questions and sign papers and protect him, this man who lived his life as a bachelor-hermit and would-be-hero.

She laughed even though she felt tears in hear heart. He was a hero.

All from that Friday. That one day that was the domino that caused other pieces to fall in a pattern that now made her focus on how she walked through her life.

Cut tires on her car, those could not be avoided and if it were not for Tom, her tires would still be flat. Then the attack on the beach later that same day.

*Then! OMG! That professor!* If ever she wanted to have a list of people she wanted to break, he was number one.

Kaylee longed for some peace and quiet.

*I just want to paint and have time to sculpt. This is a summer that tops all summers, even when I hitchhiked across Europe and lived in those hostels when I could afford it.*

That was a summer of adventure and excitement that she had sought out, this summer, all the adventure and craziness came at her.

Now, she sat in a hospital room with someone who was her husband with a serious injury, a man she did not know just a few weeks before.

And she was protective of him.

*Like a wife.*

That word again. Wife.

It haunted her, maybe even make her re-think her use of pharmaceuticals and mixing them all to party with people. Sometimes she did not know who she partied with.

She needed to finish college, that much was certain, two years left to go, plus grad school if dad would pay… At least part… of it.

Melanie , her sister and confidant would to go to school at the same time and their parents were always on the verge of not paying the bills. Tuition for school was expensive with the costs of two apartments, they groaned under the costs while running their businesses.

But as a wife, this would have consequences that she could not even dream of. Tom might help, he was that kind of person. But even if his hair was not gray, he was still older than she would normally date.

Covering her eyes in a flash of almost-laughing.

*Date? I’m was married to the man.*

He could even be a wife-beater like the tabloids said.

*No.* She shook her head. *If anything he is the most kind, gentle and generous person that ever tapped a keyboard. Tom is a man who someone could care about.*

He was someone who walked alone after the death of his family, some would say the his experiences broke him, but Tom healed with the writing children books and the novels of passion for the adults.

If anything Tom had, it was heart.

And a good one at that. Kaylee smiled softly to herself.

Slowly stroking his hand, Randy the Nurse came in and checked the pump next to Tom’s bed.

“Tom’s temperature has gone up a little, the Doctor has ordered an antibiotic in his IV pump.” Randy said it as if he it tickled him to do his job. “We got the pizza by the way, everyone did! It was amazing to see so many deliveries at the same time. Tom, thank you.”

Tom, heavily dosed a half-hour earlier mumbled then drifted away again into his narcotic dream world.

Randy leaned over to Kaylee .

“Would you like a slice of pizza? Mister Harte is sleeping, I’ll slip you some before he wakes up.”

“Pissa?” A mumbled voice from the bed. “I sshmeell peet- sa.”

“Shhh, Tom.” Kaylee whispered to his ear. “You need to rest.”

“Oh bull! Someone has pizza!” he was more awake now. “You are sneaky, I thought you were nice.”

“I have a permanent spot on Santa’s naughty list.”

Tom laughed, then moaned.

“Please, no jokes, it hurts when I laugh.”

Kaylee took her turn to laugh and left to get a slice of pizza.

“How long did it take to get here?” Tom asked Randy as the nurse tinkered around the room, setting up the IV pump on a strange-looking pole with wheels. Resembling a metal spider at the bottom with the eight-wheeled suspension that held up the chrome-plated T-topped pole.

“It took a little while, the pizza store called to verify that it was really you. A couple of hours after that, it took five delivery guys nearly an hour to bring it all in. They had to make ten trips!”

“More than 30 minutes, it’s free.” Tom tried to laugh, and groaned in pain again as he moved his wounded arm.

“I don’t think this counts.” Randy laughed as he went about his job.

“Can Tom have a slice of pizza?” Kaylee asked as she came back into the room.

“Yes, no problem about that, he has technically been eating since yesterday.” Randy nodded, a bit of marinara sauce on his upper lip, while he chewed. “Technically, I’m not supposed to eat outside of the back-room, but the Doctor insisted that we get this piggyback set up.”

“I’d buy him a pizza, too. Say, what is his office’s address?” Tom asked.

“They are closed by now, try it tomorrow if you like.” Randy said. “I”ll be back, I have to go to attend to another room.”

“Hey, naughty girl, would you give me a bite or three of that pizza slice?” Tom smiled, he was getting stronger, despite the drugs.

Not for the first time, as Kaylee chewed her pizza slice, Tom made her smile.

Naughty girl?

When the doctor released him, she would show him a new definition of naughty.

Married by Mistake: Chapter 1. Broken Morning Breaks

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Chapter 1: Broken Morning Breaks

Beep! Beepbeepbeep. Her phone squealed to life, cacophony of lights and alarms to alert that her day had begun.

Annoying damned electronic, cruel, noisy gift from her sister.

She already had a headache from her studies until well after midnight. She even studied in her dreams with books and notepads that chased her.

Frustration.

This was today’s name for Kaylee Grant.

Then, her day went from bad to worse.

“Oh, god.” She was out of coffee. No tea, either. What a miserable day.

But then, she hated all mornings that started before noon.

Next experience part of the pre-coffee day, a broken shoelace.

She retied the lace on her work-shoe took more time than she had allowed and was now late, Kaylee stumbled to her car with a loose shoelace and discovered that someone had gone down the block and slashed everyone’s tires.

Vandalism that included her tires.

Two flat tires! Twenty minutes drive, no car and now she was late for work.

Even Melanie, her sister who lived in the apartment below her had already left for school. Finals week, and Melanie ate breakfast at school while she studied up to the last-minute.

Kaylee had final scheduled before noon and needed to go to work to get a few hours on the clock.

Even when she called in, the manager told her that there was no one to cover her tables for the breakfast rush and she had to make it – or else.

Even if she showed up late, was not enough, he paid her cash and invited her to find employment elsewhere as a waitress, barista and bartender.

Being fired just Set the mood for the day, and Melanie still did not answer her phone, so she needed to walk the five miles to class at Ocean Bay University for the Arts and was unable to focus on her finals, time and again she tried to name off the six traits that identify the Severe Style and only sigh. It was a lost cause, she could name off the pages and chapters of the book where the traits where documents, even the paragraphs. But the traits were a blank spot in her memory.

Of the two pages of essay test, she could only answer half of them. The Professor walked slowly around the room and watched the students write – and professor became curious to her anxiety and told her to put the test down and to see him later.

*Yeah, later.* She hated that thought.

In his office he would grant that she passed the test, but only after she agreed to pose for him.

“To paint you.” he said.

*Oh, Yeah. I bet.*

A nude pose, while she held a phallic symbol of a banana was the probable setup.

She passed on that offer.

Early in the day, it was still before noon, so she chose to take her frustrations out at the academy of martial arts and get some time in practice for her Guru Level in Eskrima Serrada.

While she warmed up, she dropped her rattan stick three times, fell twice and tossed the weapon across the room once. The Guru of the school gave a gentle laughed and worked out with her.

The flow drill was awful. She could not get the speed at first, at last she achieved what she considered a proper workout, and she disarmed the Guru after an hour. Still and all, her performance was below her level and she was not able to focus.

“Go home and relax. You are way off today.”

His words, meant to comfort her, only served to enrage her soul further.

“To hell with it, I’ll go to the beach!” She said to herself and took her bag with towels and swimsuit out of the closet and a bottle of water to drink from the fridge.

One job termination, one failed test at the university that her parents paid a hefty price for and now the Guru all but patted her on the head and told her it would be all right.

THAT pissed her off.

Patronized by the Guru that she respected above anyone in the academy, well, except for the GrandMaster when he came to town.

She hiked the two miles to the beach and she moved through the angles of her martial art in her thoughts. Angry as she was, she imagined using her bare hands to beat someone into submission for a change.

She should beat anyone who took advantage of her unfortunate moments.

Sitting at the top of the to-do list, she wanted to find and beat the dirt-bag that cut her tires.

Everyone’s tires and left her with no one to even ask for a favor in that early hour. It promised to be a lot of money she did not have to replace those tires, now without a job, she would have to call dad. Not even her sister had money she could borrow to buy tires.

She took a deep breath and let it out in a slow controlled exhale. Maybe she could buy used tires? At fraction of the cost of new treads on the car, it still took a bite out of her budget.

And budget woes brought her back. Back to the thoughts to inflict pain on selected people.

Pain to people who cut the tires of her car, pain to professors that wanted little more than to have her stand on a stage, naked.

She wanted time with the Guru who – Well, she liked him, he always treated her well and she did not want to cause pain to him. Still, she wanted to disarm him and toss him around the padded floor for a change, like he had done with her at the Academy of the Filippino Martial Art.

Kaylee Grant, waitress, barista, bartender, sun-worshipper, peaceful college student wanted to beat someone with her fists, sticks and feet until they cried.

She walked along the sidewalk to the beach more than ten-thousand feet distant. Her mind worked out the math, while her artist’s soul sought the beauty in the world while she thought and measured of how she might draw or paint this tree or that mall.

The walk to the beach had the effect to sooth her spirit and gave her time to become introspective, she pondered about a change in her major. Three years in this school and change?

*Unwise.* She shook her head. *Better to stick it out, now. If I have to tell Pops that he was up for an extra couple years of tuition for studies? That would create a family storm I have no desire to cause.*

Dad, a good man, but she had seen him lose his temper with people over the years. A rare occurrence, but even the mayor of her home town backed down at a council’s open forum while her dad (Then the city manager.) and the mayor clashed.

Kaylee walked on, her white-knuckled hold on her beach-bag slowly relaxing to something less than a death-grip, the sunshine and beach already having the effect of calm and relaxation she needed.

And she did not even have her toes in the sand yet.

Failed Getaway, the escape of I’bin Ba’ad

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Failed Getaway

He had not been born on Terra, although he had returned to the planet of his parent’s birth to bury his mother.

I’bin Ba’ad, drop out student of the College at Velar Naqal returned to bury his mother after an unknown assailant stabbed her.

This was his story.

The police did not originally suspect the son in the murder, his alibi was solid. Video of his office showed him working at the terminal and his time stamp on files fit where he said he was.

What investigators failed to realize, that his skills at spoofing both time and location on files covered his tracks well.

An arrow made of gallium, the cutting head sharpened with percussive taps while it was deeply frozen creating fracture patterns like glass made the edge nearly as sharp as obsidian.

Once the arrow left at high-speed from a compressed air pipe, it passed through the wealthy socialite with devastating results, leaving undetectable traces. 

Once warmed to room temperature, the tool of parricide melted away into the ground.

Unable to find a projectile, the weapon used remained unknown.

Unable to recognize the disturbed soil, the police investigator missed the clue of gallium soaked earth with no explainable reason.

Only until the trail of bodies that seemed to pile up around I’bin that suspicion of his involvement were suspicions aroused about his mother’s death, by then, all evidence was lost.

Eventually, the serial killer I’bin was charged with a young couples disappearance, two women who had recently married.

The misogynistic human-canid hybrid did not show his animalistic DNA.

Other than the blood-lust.

By the time they captured him, the insanity that was I’bin, the killer-wolf charges mounted to over thirty-eight deaths. Another seventy attributed to him, but lack of evidence kept them from being brought to the trials.

Not that the government needed to use the other crimes.

The trial, I’bin Ba’ad, the press dubbed him “The Wolf” was declared sane enough to stand trial and for the first time in two-centuries, the inter-planetery courts, five judges sitting on the bench, listened to the evidence put to the jury.

Never before had the murders of so many involved more than one planet.

The jury of twenty-one retired to study the evidence and returned in three-hours.

Guilty.

The sentence:

Death.

Then an attempt for suicide by cop by attacking the bench of judges.

To his surprise, three of the judges were more than capable of defending themselves.

Taken by the officers to his place of holding, the execution proceeded quickly.

For two-weeks he met with his representative and the one person that stood by him.

Cu’Feur I’ous, to I’bin.

“Worry not, you will get your freedom.” Wolf-eyes looked into wolf-eyes. The two men shared DNA.

They were brothers.

When the date came, I’bin was strapped to the table, he had faith in his brother. He would walk out.

When the witnesses sat, he could see the first plunger start its deadly travel in the tube, pushing a pink drug into the IV line, then at that moment the lights went out.

I’bin opened his eyes, they did not focus properly for a moment, but there was no noise.

The needle in his arm pinched slightly when he scratched his nose.

Then I’bin blinked.

His arm was free! Someone had released the straps when they abandoned the area when the power went out.

Although, he had not heard any alarms. He decided that it was due to the medication that ran into his arm put him to sleep, people assumed he was dead when the power went out.

Laughing, the thought of his walking out of the room when no one was looking tickled his soul.

He already had plans for the judges and their families.

Darkness in the hallways, only the sunlight from the outside filtered in.

It was odd, not even the guards were around, prisoners were gone, too.

But the gates were open, no doors locked.

As promised, I’bin walked free, laughing at the power outage that caused the sheep to run frightened.

Even the prisoners bolted, maybe even taken by bus, but no matter.

Screw them all! He was free.

His next stop, where Judge Alkar Chronqui’s family was. He would break into the home and take a head to put on the hood of the Judge Davie Bleu’s car.

Laughing, I’bin looked around, no one could see him cut across the field towards town, dark thoughts for his arrival in town, it would be dark when he got to the park.

The main park where he hid his kit of tape, knives, drugs, rope.

The drugs would have gone bad, he dare not use them on victims, it might kill them.

More laughter as he covered the ground towards town when he kicked something in the tall grass and tripped.

A body!

Eviscerated, still steaming when he stood up. The coppery smell of blood came from his prison issue shirt.

He had blood soaking his shirt.

“Gawd Dayuam! They’s comin’ outta de groun’s Ostus! Der’s anudder one! Git ‘im!”

He squatted down, fishing around the body, looking for a weapon of any kind.

The sound of a baseball bat sounded in his ears. A sound of a grunt, a wheeze of a death rattle, he realized that whoever it was had not seen him.

He crawled through the grass carefully, towards the voices.

His heart was standing still, his breath was wheezing in his ears as he got closer to the voices.

If he could get a jump on them, what a wonderful twist of irony, he could kill someone killing someone.

He could see the top if their heads. They carried bats with nails driven into the fat end.

“No’ so easy ta make a soun’ wit yer throat stuck full’a holes, ain’tit a bish!”

The sounds of thumping and the bloody fluids made for a mist that I’bin could smell the blood in the air.

I’bin struck, leaping up and grabbing the first one, called Oestus.

His hands were stronger than he anticipated when he broke Oestus’ neck, taking the bat, he broke the head of the other wannabe killer.

But the look they gave as he came up, bloodied and muddy, they acted as if they saw the dead rising from the graves.

I’bin laughed, carrying the bat with him, he walked off towards the town. He saw another man stand up, also wearing standard-issue.

“Thanks, they were doing everyone from the prison.” The darkness hid the convicts eyes, but they glittered with a mixture of anger and fear. “I want to kill the judge for putting me in there. Then find each and every one of the jurors. I’ve not seen anyone for years, they don’t come to visit.”

“Let’s go. What were you in for?”

“They said I was a cannibal. I was not, they were chewed on by rats.” The pair moved towards the town. “I’m N’oi.”

“I’bin. What kind of name is N’oi?”

“What kind of name is I’bin?”

Shrugging, the pair moved off into the dark.

A cop car, the officers were looking at something when the pair stepped out from behind the trees.

I’bin gasped at the cops when they turned towards the pair’s approach.

Bloodied, one chewed on an object that looked like a forearm, the other had a foot.

On cue, the officers dropped the appendages and began to walk towards I’bin.

Looking at his fellow escapee, the convict stood there, drooling, his skin ashen, the big man made no other sound like conversation.

He took off in a run and dashed to the park.

The cops… he had never seen anyone do that before.

Canabalism? In a pair of them?

He could easily outrun them, there was something odd. No cars to wave down, the shirt stuck against his body with clotted blood and made him cold.

He’d need a fresh shirt.

Bodies in the park were milling around, a part of the late summer day with no power anywhere. He could kill one and take the shirt.

He recognized the first person he came across, a heavy-set girl. She had died pleading that she was pregnant while I’bin tied a plastic bag over her head.

And she saw him, making a noise. A cross between a siren and a scream, while pointing with both hands.

She was dead! He knew she was.

He had abused her body in death and knew every pore, every mole.

He took pictures and stared at them for months before he was caught.

I’bin ran down the street, heading to the middle of town, the police department would be a good place to go, someplace safe!

He ran headlong into the glass doors— Locked!

Locked?

More people were following him! He recognized the lesbian couple, his first hunt!

Run! He had to run!

He had to find a cop, someone who could put him behind bars for protection!

What was happening with the world?

A car, an ancient Ford with the door open sat on the side of the street, he could mess with that and get it started.

Savage panic set in, I’bin ran. More people, they were coming out of the shadows.

No, not out of the shadows, out of the GROUND!

He was standing in the middle of a park, but not a park, it was the rural cemetery.

How did he get here? He needed to get back to the center of town, steal a cop car if he needed!

A cold hand grabbed him from a bush, feeling for a pulse?

RUN!

He pulled his hand free- or did it let go?

It did not matter, he ran! Out of the ground they came in the failing light of day.

He needed to find tools! Break into a shed or a hardware store if need be.

He needed to run.

Into the darkness I’bin Ba’ad ran, chased by familiar faces of walking dead. His screams echoed long and loud in the gathering night.

****

The execution chamber of Terra Top Prison, they had not used it in anyone’s memory so the seating was awkward, the witnesses watched the last breath of I’bin Ba’ad.

“I hope he is in Hell and suffers a thousand deaths for each one he committed.” The father of the princess who he gave away to another princess at their wedding.

Turning and walking out. Pha’rem T’ru got his wish in ways he never knew.

Doctor Demonitor Drake checked for a lack of pulse to match the flatline on the screen nodded then paused.

“I would swear he pulled that out of my hand.” The doctor leaned over and looked into the dead prisoner’s eyes. “He was a coward in the end, look at the fear on his face, the jaw set and lips pulled back as if he was about to scream, eyes wide open. I’d say he was afraid to die.”

“Good for him.” The guard said. “Coroner is here. Let them take him out now.”

“Good, have him sent to Doctor Sherman Quincy, I want him autopsied. Someone like this needs to be studied, we will slice his brain up and study it.”

“You’re the doc, doc.” The guard nodded.

In the core of the world of the prisoner, I’bin became aware someone spoke of cutting him apart.

But only if they could catch him.

He continued to run.

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta Chapter 6. Log Search

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Chapter 6. Log Search

Fae walked alone with Thea fluttering along next to her.

“You have been quiet for a human. Especially for you.” The mini-bot looked around. “We are farther than we have ever gone, are you disturbed about something?”

Fae shook her head as she walked along in her thoughts.

“No, not something, someone. When we got the order for everyone who would voluntarily go into hibernation or stay on the surface, I talked to my family, everyone accepted the positions in the pods, my husband did too.” The human frowned. “I found my brother’s name, he is in there. So is my mom. But my husband and father are not in the logs. I don’t think they made it, thirty-thousand years, there is no way to find their graves if they died. If they were not buried, their bodies have long gone to dust.”

“We can find out if there was anyone left out in the contaminated atmosphere.” Thea flitted. “I know where the early archived logs are. Early on, humans wore virus-check badges that automatically registered the movements and if they suffered exposure to any contagion.”

“There are logs after so long?”

“Core System deletes nothing. You just need to know where to locate the logs. Core System maintains them deep in fixed archives, written into hardware systems.”

“What do you mean? Hardware systems.”

“It is not a code, the Core System determined that the best storage is writing in hard-wired systems. They cannot be accidentally erased.”

“Let’s go look up the logs, we can compare them to the ones I have seen.”

Following the large artificial dragonfly, Fae walked as fast as she could to keep up.

“Could I get a flyer like you have? Only bigger?”

Thea laughed and slowed down to a human walking pace.

“The size requirements increase exponentially with weight and size.” Thea explained, and drifted off into an engineering lecture that included wing loading, speed of wing flap and size of wings.

It was all beyond engineering that Fae had ever studied. Her studies never covered flight engineering, physics of flight and related math formula.

“So the final answer is that I would have to have one that has a wingspan about double my own arm-span.”

“Blunt, but essentially correct.” The riding mini-bot nodded. “At macro sizes, rotary wings become more efficient than those of Rudy here.”

“Rudy?”

“That’s what I call my flyer.” Thea smiled, her eyes glittered in good humor. “I named him after a company that built powerful engines for waterborne vehicles.”

“Ah.” Fae tried to nod and look wise, having no idea what Thea was talking about. “Good choice.”

They arrived at a building that Thea flitted up, then stopped.

“I don’t know how to get you inside. I fly through the vents normally.”

“Your nanobots maintain everything perfectly, let me try just opening the door.”

She turned the red-metal knob, it felt stiff as if it were not going to give. Then warmed up and pinged.

A built-in panel, flush with the wall. Not visible until the words illuminated “Access Granted.” On the surface.

“That is weird.” She traced her fingers over the panel, it was the same texture as the wall, there was no change, perfect blending of the function and structure.

“This way!” Thea called as she and Rudy the speed happy artificial dragonfly fluttered ahead.

Stopping at a console, they fluttered for a minute and then landed.

“This is the first one we can get to, the access is open. You just log in with your badge.” Thea smiled. “The logs are sequential. No codes, you can scroll all the way back to day-zero.”

“When is day-zero?”

“You will have to tell me. I was not around then.” Thea looked up at the human woman. “But zero is before humans were frozen, no one was frozen then.”

History scrolled by, she stopped zooming forward on video, war information, death counts, virus discovery. Fae closed those and moved her hand through the three-dimensional file system, spinning the virtual clock forward and opened another video file.

Thousands dead.

Closed the video with a sigh.

“How did people die from this?”

“Badly, it was a hemorrhagic virus, it drove people mad after it caused a bleeding in the brain. People would pull off their own ears, claw out eyes, those that did not self-mutilate, they became murderous and turned on others.” Fae shook her head. “It spared anyone with a genetic mutation of four fingers. If there was an accident, and they lost a pinky, it did not matter, the virus targeted only five-finger DNA.”

“I read that it was a four-finger DNA virus.”

“That was the answer the government had, once it was out of the control of the scientists, the two different DNA were going to be wiped out. That was everyone. Only the others that would have had mutations of three or six fingers would survive.”

“How many of those genetic structures were there?”

“On this planet? Too few to survive. We all had to go into hibernation. So the military did a final attack then ordered everyone into pods.” Fae flipped through more files and found the order that she was talking about. “People who refused to go, for health or religious reasons remained unfrozen, but they were all had to live elsewhere.”

She opened a file.

“Oh my god.”

“What?”

“I found my brother, he was one of the first into the pods. Number nine-sixty-two.”

“That would be very near the Core System on the X,Y grid and nearly a kilometer deep on the Z axis.”

“How deep does it go?

“One-hundred meters per hundred pods.” Thea answered. “They go top to bottom, the deepest pods are five-kilometers deep and are leaders of the saved society.”

“My brother is almost one-kilometer deep. That makes him important.”

“Yes, how deep were you?”

“I don’t know, I wasn’t awake.”

“Last in first out.”

“Oh. So I was not that deep.”

“No, your pod was one of the first by the doors.”

“That’s depressing.”

Thea danced through the three-dimensional displays and moved files around on her own power and found what she was looking for.

“Here is yours. The system shows you also had a neurological implant for encoding memory engrams.”

“What? I don’t remember that.”

“Odd. Do you find that you have unexplained knowledge about systems you didn’t know of before?”

“Like this one? Yeah.”

“Do you have an access port?”

“Um. That is a little personal?” Fae laughed. “Sorry. Gutter mind.”

“What is guttermind?”

“Never mind.” She laughed again. “Now let’s find my dad.”

Steel Gardens of Anid-Sta: Prologue

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I don’t often write BACKWARDS, but in this case, after writing “Generation 1.” The back story came to me.  I don’t like doing it this way, but ladies and gents, it is what happens when I give you my soul to the dozen (plus or minus) of you who read what I post. Sometimes it is out of order.  I’ll catch it next time on the edit and put it to order.

For now, I give you (First draft, so it is crap, sorry, final draft may not even be close to this.):

Steel Gardens  of Anid-Sta: Prologue 

In the year 2,952 After Niska, the leader and founder of the planet colony that grew in the nearly three-thousand years to one-hundred six billion citizens, the Csu, a religious sect founded by the prophet of the Lord Qat-Csu developed the political system that began at the remote corners of the planet the century before.

Missionaries moved through villages of farmers promising that the Lord Qat-Csu would bring sufficient rains for the colonies in the back country. In the years that followed, a small and dedicated group of followers preached to anyone, anywhere giving testimony to the power and glory of the Lord of rain and plentiful harvest. Qat-Csu brought rain and plenty to all those that followed. The true followers of Qat-Csu were required to have the small fingers of the left hand amputated and their DNA modified so that offspring would be born without the appendage. Failure to do so, marked one as not a true follower and suffered denials of rain and good harvest.

Those that received good rains but were not true followers would be found guilty of heresy and have all the harvest taken on the word of the ruling Cahir, the high priests of the church of Qat-Csu.

In the generations that followed, resistance grew as the word of Qat-Csu, interpreted by corrupt Cahir of the religion caused a rift. The rift grew between the factions, each claiming to follow the true path commanded by Qat-Csu.

Claiming that the growing splinter group were apostates, calling themselves simply Csu and they did not believe that amputations of fingers as an answer to anything.

The Cahir of the Qat-Csu enlisted a fanatical genius who bio-engineered a virus to target carriers of five-finger DNA and delivered by missiles and drones to the centers of populations of the un-enlightened and the apostates. A disillusioned scientist stole samples of the virus and leaked information to the intended victims at the cost of his life.

DNA bioengineers for the splinter-group of the Csu modified the virus genetic coding to target four-fingered mutations.

The following war was a biologic nightmare. Missiles passed each other in mid-flight. A blow for each of their gods and included the non-combatants in collateral damage.

No one came away unaffected, in the struggle to dominate as the only religion, they contaminated an entire world six-times the diameter of the earth with a fraction of the density.

In the attack, the virus was more successful than Grey D’Gran the biologist that mutated the fragments of genes imagined in his darkest dreams.

Ninety-seven percent of the population died outright in fever-induced seizures. After a year, the ravages of the fever, fewer than ten-thousand survived out of more than a hundred billion.

The religion of death survived until the end, when the last remaining Cahir walked down the path explaining the prophet of no name died of his own hand.

Looking into the eyes of his Hukis, students of the religion of Qat-Csu, he spoke haltingly as a man with a broken soul.

“The Lord Qat-Csu that speaks only to the prophet.” The hazel eyes of a farmer-come-priest wept. “Is a machine a… computer programmed by a man.”

Called a blasphemer by his adepts murdered him with a golden candlestick. They burned the Cahir’s body and threw his bones into a river.

One by one, the remaining followers turned on each other, the final three finding their demise in one evening as they fought over how to bless the last meal of the day.

Peace settled on the dead planet, but life assumed to be extinct, found a way.

 The machines of war, lined up at the ready before the biologic attack, now sat with the patience of machines. Machines that waited in this world of corrosion resistant metal and ceramic when life took hold.

The steel gardens, lived.

Angel of Death and the Scandal in Sandals

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“Angel of Death and the Scandal in Sandals”

Finis a muscular, broad-shouldered type that bore a strong resemblance Santa Claus with his white hair and beard. Today, he enjoyment the shade this public park.

He was often referred to by his work name -Death, and today he chose to take the afternoon off, relaxing in the shade of the trees, he listened to children playing in the sandbox — a good sound, full of life and a balm to his soul.

He closed his eyes and inhaled the blessed perfumes of pine, elm and grass when a jewish carpenter tapped him on the shoulder and offered white-haired occupant of the bench a cup of wine from his bottle of “Never Empty” brand of Merlot.

“You know drinking in public is against the law.” He said to the smiling rabbi as he tipped the bottle to the wine glass.

“Are you going to complain, or drink?” As he handed the wine to Finis.

“You are a bad influence on me.” Finis said, laughing. “I don’t take time off and drinking wine is a scandal in the park.”

The two men chatted for a while, a good rivalry had developed between the two friends, long before either of them cared to think. This crazy carpenter held the unique position of defeating him in the universal contest that everyone, everywhere, struggles with, and against, walking with the Angel of Death.

Finis never held it against the wandering rabbi, they both walked a path that was similar and shared some laughs. But where the carpenter enjoyed his position, Finis hated his job.

No one ran towards Finis with peace in their hearts. If and when they did, it was always the darkness that drove them.

It was depressing.

So the sharing of wine with the scandal in sandals was always enjoyable. Finis tore a sourdough baguette in two and handed one-half to the long-haired friend and good-natured rival.

They were talking peacefully when a drug dealer and his entourage walk into the park and caused a change in the mood of the playground. Mothers gathered their children and ran from the area in abject fear, ending the joyous sound of children’s laugh and play.

The absence of sound drew the two gentlemen’s attention while they sat on the bench and began to frown as they discussed the change in the air. One white-haired man with a graceful, silver-handled cane, another who wore a peasant shirt, threadbare but clean dungaree shorts and sandals. They continued to shared wine and bread while the park’s atmosphere altered from one of family to one of the business of crime.

It seemed colder and more unwelcome than before when the five-year-old girl raced ahead of her mom to climb and take her turn at the slide.

“This is our park, you need to pay to stay.” The tattoo of tears on the face of the bald leader in contrast to the sparkling anger of his eyes. The two benchwarmers looked first at each other, then the white haired one with the cane looked back at him with a slight smile. 

“We were here first and we are just enjoying the shade.”

“You want a piece of me?” The dealer hissed dawing a sidearm. “I said you had to pay to stay, now you just have to pay.”

“Roberto, I don’t get to see you for another three-years, seven-months and twelve days.” White-hair said in a matter-of-fact tone, as if he read it out of a book.

“Finis.” The smaller carpenter cautioned. “No messing with him. But, if you …”

“Fuckit. You go to the hospital with holes.” Roberto aimed his pistol at the face of the carpenter. White-hair grabbed the hand and weapon with cat-like speed.

“You have no idea how close to death you are right now, young man.” Finis stared into the eyes of the thug. “And that gent right there is your only saving grace.”

Fear burned at the soul of the human as the Angel of Death invaded his mind with images that changed his life.

“This carpenter right here will lead you back, but of it were me? I will just take you away. Talk to him, open your heart. If you talk to me, it will be with your last breath, and you would suffer in the most biblical of ways.”

In the following minutes, the three men, a white-haired Santa Claus and a jewish carpenter sat and talked of everything they could think of with the shaven and tattoo covered leader and dealer of drugs.

Roberto, the gangster known as “The Bull”, discovered a change in his life, he had met death that day and found Jesus.

Roberto “The Bull” Roman was lucky, indeed.

Death was on holiday.

Keeper of the Cane and the Scandal in Sandals (Or: Drinking Wine in the Public Park)

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Finis, the muscular Santa Claus type, sat on the bench enjoying the life and activity in the public park.

Death chose to take an afternoon off, relaxing in the shade of the trees, he listened to children playing in the sandbox — a good sound, full of life and a balm to the soul.

He was closing his eyes and inhaling the blessed perfumes of pine, elm and grass when a jewish carpenter tapped him on the shoulder and offered snow-maned occupant of the bench a cup of wine from his bottle of “Never Empty” brand of Merlot.

“You know, drinking of alcohol in the public park is illegal here.” He gratefully accepted the cup.

“Are you going to talk or drink?” 

“You only filled it half-way.” Finis said, his companion laughing and topping up his glass. “And we can visit at the same time.”

The sharing of illegal drinking of wine with the scandal in sandals was always enjoyable. Finis tore off a large peice of a baguette he carried in a bag and handed it to the long-haired friend and good-natured rival, fishing out a bar of dark chocolate, he broke it in half and balanced it on top of the broken bread.

“Humans here relish this.” He said and both men nodded. One of the discoveries of man that was enjoyable on many levels.

The two men chatted for a while, a good rivalry had developed between the two years before. This crazy carpenter held the unique position of defeating him in the universal contest that everyone, everywhere struggles with, and against walking with the Angel of Death.

Finis never held it against the wandering rabbi, they both walked a path that was similar and shared some laughs. But where the carpenter enjoyed his position, Finis hated his job.

No one ran towards Finis with peace in their hearts. If and when they did, it was always a darkness that drove them. 

It was depressing.

They were talking peacefully when a drug dealer and his entourage walked into the area and spread out to the different areas, staring at the families.  

Terrified and intimidated mothers gathered their children and vacated the area in abject fear, ending the joyous sound like a cold rain.

The descending silence drew the attention of the two solitary gentlemen sitting on the bench who frowned as they discussed the change in the air.

The gang leader looked at the two men, they seemed clueless to where they were.  They sat in a dangerous part of town and a lesson was about to be taught.

This was HIS park.

One, a white-haired man with a long silver-handled cane, and the other who wore a peasant shirt, well-worn but clean denim shorts and sandals. They were openly sharing wine and bread while the park changed from one of family fun to one of the business of crime.

They two friends commented to each other that it seemed colder and more unwelcoming than before, when a five-year-old girl raced ahead of her mom to climb and take her turn at the slide.

The drug dealer could hear them discussing his crew as he walked up.

“This is our park, you need to pay to stay.” The tattoo of tears on the face of the bald leader in contrast to the sparkling hatred of his eyes.

The two benchwarmers looked first at each other, then the white-haired one with the cane looked back at him with a slight smile. 

“We were here first and we are just enjoying the shade.”

“You want a piece of me?” The dealer hissed drawing a sidearm. “I said you had to pay to stay, now you just have to pay.”

“Roberto, I don’t get to see you for another three-years, four months, twelve days.” White-hair said matter-of-factly, no anger, but the old man’s tone was even.

“Finis.” The smaller carpenter cautioned. “No messing with him. But, if you …”

“Fuckit. You go to the hospital with holes.” Roberto aimed his pistol at the face of the carpenter. White-hair grabbed the hand and weapon with cat-like speed.

“You have no idea how close to death you are right now, young man.” Finis stared into the eyes of the thug. “And that gent right there is your only saving grace.”

The fear burning at the soul of the human as the Angel of Death invaded his mind with images that changed his life.

“This carpenter right here will lead you back, but of it were me? I will just take you away. Talk to him, open your heart. If you talk to me, it will be with your last breath, and you would suffer in the most biblical of ways.”

In the following minutes, the two men, a white-haired Santa Claus type and a jewish carpenter sat and talked of everything they could think of with the shaven and tattoo leader and dealer of drugs. Roberto the gangster known as “The Bull” discovered a change in his life, he had met death that day and found Jesus. 

Roberto “The Bull” Roman was lucky, Death was off duty.

The Lunch break

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The lunch break

Doctor Nickosla Jones, Trauma surgeon of the St. Osmium Medical Center sat with a cup of coffee and a dry toasted english muffin. The shift had been severe. A cold night after a snow filled month and then a couple warm days.

Black ice had taken a toll on the average person. The latest victim, an elderly professor at the Ion University, walked out his drive with a bar to break up the ice, and slipped.

The on-scene EMS crews there put the unconscious instructor of physics on a helicopter and flew him straight to the St. Oz’s with posturing, and a subarachnoid bleed that they recognized straight away.

The only question was how long the injured man lay on the ice, out if sight of the house and anyone from the street. Only when his wife noticed he had not left for his early classes did she walk outside and discover her husband of two-millenia, two centuries and six-decades, laying in a freezing pool of blood from the laceration on the back of his head.

The surgery had been long and draining. The bleeding and fractures to the skull were not his only problems, spinal pressure from the neck injury complicated the treatment protocols as the teams moved from one problem to the next.

Finally, they closed and the patient went to the recovery, one alarming moment, the patient’s blood pressure dropped alarmingly, Nick and the other fellows rushed in, and after an intense hour, restored homeostasis as much as possible.

Professor Hecate Budd still was alive.

And Doctor Jones was tired.

No, not tired. Exhausted.

And he still had an hours drive home to do.

He was debating about going to the local hotel down the street and just logging some sleep for a few hours when he looked up and saw him.

White hair, a goatee that he kept well-trimmed and the affectation of the silver-handled cane that he started to carry in the long-ago past.

“Good job,” The one called Finis said, handing a latte to the Doctor. “Your patient will live, in spite of going horizontal for about a half-second.”

The goatee widened in a smile. Sparkling eyes shown behind the rose-colored glasses.

“Yeah, but he was fixing to die on us up there.”

“That medic on scene did a good job, he called it on the money by putting him in a helicopter and flying him here.” Finis nodded. “Besides, he had you. That made all the difference.”

A pretty young woman came up and tapped Finis on the shoulder and held up a tablet computer that Finis tapped on names.

“He has family waiting. Take his wife to him.” Finis nodded. “That will help.”

The woman nodded and tapped on the tablet.

Another name, she handed the tablet back to her boss and let him read it.

“This is expected.” Finis frowned. “You did not need to bring this to my attention. She will be leaving soon, family is on their way.”

“Sorry, the calls never quit.” He apologized to Nick.

“No, no. Don’t apologize, I know as well as anyone.” Nick sipped the fresh coffee and steamed milk.

“Yes, you do, as anyone in the center here knows. You are well taught and talented, but they are still overwhelmed.” Finis shook his head. “The hospital’s understaffed. When was the last time you took a day away from this house of craziness.”

“Yeah, well, it is the path I chose a long time ago.”

“Right after you nearly drowned.”

“Yeah. That was the first time I met you.” The doctor said.

“Well, it was a good meeting. It pushed you in the direction you took in school.” Finis looked around as the woman approached again from the hallway. No one noticing her except the two men. “You were a bit of drug-oriented rebel in those days.”

The woman spoke in Finis’ ear again, slipping the tablet into his hands.

“No, this is not right.” He shook his head. “His schedule is not yet finished, he’s scheduled for another week of therapy, then I have to go talk to him.”

She nodded and walked off to do her boss’s bidding.

“The same lecture I gave you when you were being stupid and jumped off that bridge into the river, I am giving to this young man. Unlike yours were at that age, his options are limited. He has not finished school and he’s twenty with a damaged liver.”

“He still could become something.”

“Perhaps you should talk to him.” Finis shook his head. “If I do it, he will have bladder incontinence issues for a week.”

“Not going to handle him gently, old man?” Nick chuckled and took a bite of his dry toast.

“Two things.” Finis gave a crooked smile. “One, I am always gentle. But I will get my way, no one says no to me for very long. And TWO, do not call me old.”

Nick chuckled. Both those statements were true. No one could deny the handsome gentleman that sat at the table sipping on his own latte.

Finis stood six-foot tall, his white hair hung to his shoulders when loose, but often he kept it pulled back into a pony-tail.

Broad at the shoulder, large of bicep and narrow at the hip, the effect was one of a Santa Claus that spent too much time in the gym. He really did not need the affectation of the cane he used to disarm people as a grandfatherly type.

And he was hysterical to listen to when he was working, always looking at a bright spot that no one expected and could poke fun at it.

Only once did he see the keeper of the cane become angry, it was not a pleasant thing to see. The doctor learned that the subordinate involved ended up being a yard watcher at a bone-yard.

Looking at a young man reading a comic book, Finis sighed at the graphic of a cloaked monster with a scythe in hand.

“I wish, someday that I could entrust this job to someone else, then I could talk to children of the views they find in those, “ Finis paused looking for the words. “Graphic novels. Are not entirely accurate.”

He shook his head.

“Well, people do have a fear of a lot of things.”

“Yes,” Finis agreed. “But as a doctor, do you find them afraid of you?”

“Sometimes. I tell them the truth and they don’t always like it.”

“When I tell them the truth,” Finis grumbled. “They don’t believe me.”

The woman returned with the pad, but this time she had a worried look.

“Mister Sierra.” The only words she said as she handed Finis the tablet.

“Of course, he has no one. I need to go talk with him.” Finis signed the tablet and handed it back to her. “Nick, you did a fine job. The professor will leave this medical center on his own power. Don’t worry. I am not scheduled to meet with him for a long while yet.”

Looking back at the comic book the boy held.

“Maybe I should change my cane for something else? They make the cane into an edged weapon and I have no face.”

“Or a skull.” Nick nodded grimly. “You have to admit, you have a tough job.”

Nodding Finis stood up, shaking Nick’s hand. Old friends, Nick had met him when he nearly died as a teenager, the white-haired, smiling man directed him to medicine to do so much good.

Now, Nick felt a little sorry for him. Overworked and under-appreciated, the Angel of Death walked out of the cafeteria. A soul that hated his job and took it to heart that no one wanted to meet with him.

Always scheduling family to walk with the dearly departed, or walking with someone so they never made the trip alone, telling jokes or having conversations with them the entire journey. He was good at his job, and he hated it so much.

Doctor Jones shook his head and got up, the irony of it all was not lost on him.

Mosquito at Midnight (A moment of mid-spring night rage)

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EEEEeeeeeeeEEEEEeeeee.

The sounds of the stalking insect that wants a meal of blood.

A quick grab of the mobile phone and the LED light on.

EEEeeeEe… Silence.

Irritation. It was close. But with that illumination, it went to the shadows. Sighing, I should get my eyes shut, allergies had driven the course of the day, I was careful not to get overloaded on Benadryl (Diphenhydramine hydrochloride, for those of you who are more generic oriented).  My eyes ache from writing through the block I have had recently.

Light off, back to reading about various subjects.

EEeeeeEEEeeeeEEEee… getting closer. She’s baa’aaack…

I know who is going to die in the next novel.

Light back on, I’m going to catch that tiny vampire!

EeeeeEe… Silence.

Frustration…

Okay, I am smart? (Debatable.) Talented? (Ehh… Maybe. Anyone who wants to chat me up on G+ is welcome to do so and give me opinions on that.)

BUT clever I can be.

The average mosquito cannot fly faster than the gentlest breezes. 1-2 miles per hour. Flutterbys do better than that.

A ceiling fan produces a column of air  that disrupts the flight path of such a small, lightweight parasite.  So setting the fan on medium to assure the speed of airflow.

Light off, reading for another half-hour with ears open for the high-pitched whine of the stalker.

Negative contact: Air traffic all clear. HAH!

Now I sleep under more layers of blankets, secure that for once this spring, I have a plan that was successful.

Downside? Flippin’ cold in the morning, but all my blood is still mine, not some meal somewhere.

Steel Garden of Anid-Sta

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Prologue

In the year of Niska, the child religious leader, system population exceeded one-hundred six billion. The Csu, a secondary religion founded by the prophet of the Lord Qat-Csu developed the political system that began at the remote corners of the planet the century before.

Missionaries moved through villages of farmers promising that the Lord Qat Csu would bring sufficient rains for the colonies in the back country. In the years that followed, a small but dedicated group of followers preached to anyone, anywhere giving testimony to the power and glory of the Lord of rain and plentiful harvest. Qat-Csu brought rain and plenty to all those that followed. The true followers of Qat-Csu were required to have the small fingers of each hand amputated. Failure to do so, marked one as not truly a follower, who suffered denials of rain and good harvest.

Those that received good rains but were not true followers would be found guilty of heresy and have all the harvest taken on the word of the ruling Cahir, the high priests of the church of Qat-Csu. In the generations that followed, resistance grew as the word of Qat-Csu was felt to be interpreted by the corrupt Cahir of the religion.

Claiming that a growing splinter group were apostates, calling themselves simply the Csu. The Csu did not believe that amputations of fingers as an answer to anything.

The Cahir of the Qat-Csu enlisted a fanatical genius who developed a virus to target carriers of five-finger DNA, obtained the virus through an apostate who left the Qat-Csu and leaked information out at the cost of his life. A DNA bioengineer modified the virus genetic coding to target three-fingered mutations.

The following war was a biologic nightmare. Missiles passed each other in mid-flight. A blow for each of their gods.

Ninety-seven percent of the population died outright in fever-induced seizures, after the ravages of the illness, fewer than ten-thousand survived out of billions.

The religion of death survived until the last, one of the last remaining Cahir walked down the path. The prophet of no name died of his own hand.

Looking into the eyes of his Hukis, students of the Qat-Csu, the Cahir spoke.

“The Lord Qat-Csu that speaks only to the prophet.” The hazel eyes of a farmer-come-priest wept. “It is a machine, an automaton .”

Called a blasphemer by his adepts, the students attacked and killed him with a golden candlestick, his body burned and his bones thrown from the cliffs into a river.

Peace settled on the dead planet, but life assumed to be extinct, found a way.

In the steel skeletons of the machines of war, lined up to be used by the dead hands after the biologic attack, life took hold.

The steel garden, lived.

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

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Haunted Home, Spicer Dam Spur Road

Crime Scene Photo 1-A  24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road

The Weekend Trip: Snowed

He took another swallow from the old whiskey bottle. Jason Best Ph.D. pulled on the wrench while he struggled to remove the cap that protected the fill valve. He swore when barked his knuckles for the third time.

The cabin, originally constructed in the era of the California Gold Rush over the horizontal entrance of a prospecter’s mine. A moderately successful mine that produced moderate amounts of gold until it played. The owner stayed with the cabin as a hermit until the elderly prospector died and ownership passed, in time, to Jason.

In the construction style of the era, the first owner built the cabin’s foundation out of charred cedar logs on bedrock that survived the elements better than modern foundations. Remodeled twice, the one floor shanty grew into a split-level two and a half story mountain chalet, steam from nearby hot springs powered a small turbine for electricity and radiators for heat.

Carefully he examined the dead system, he found the valve seal had failed. It appeared to have been overtightened, the seal developed a slow leak that took a toll over the years, and reduced the power generation slowly to zero. Now he paid the price for that seal with blood from his knuckles. He gave a heavy sigh as the blood dripped onto the ancient timbers of the wood and earth, it would be nice to have a nurse type who could get the first aid kit and bandage his knuckles up.

As it is I’ll  need to climb up three flights of stairs to get to the first aid kit so I could patch up my own scrapes, but I don’t have time to bleed. I’m on a roll.  His thoughts thoughts tried to interrupt his focus.

Doctor Best studied the concepts of the hot springs and geothermal power, he taught himself enough to rebuild the system that he now struggled with while he used language that his mother used to ground him for. He updated the electrical wire, plugs and cables in the cabin, it held many pleasant surprises that included one solid-gold nugget.  It was a beautiful place that he happily named “Mountain Home”.

With a final shrill squeak of surrender, the cap turned. Then became loose enough for him to spin it off with his fingers. The threads were in good shape, however the seal was in bad shape.

He used a specialized tool that he tracked down over the internet to a company that dealt with replacement parts of the ancient system, he was able to re-plumb the house. Along with the upgraded the control panel circuitry, Jason brought the house into the modern era.

Sweat and strain as he worked, his next part of the project was to dig out under the house for to expand his electrical panel and power generation center. He took advantage of the horizontal mine, and when he moved out a pile of debris he discovered, to his pleasure, a large underground room.

An added plus, the underground space was semi-finished into a wine-cellar of sorts. With wines he had found dated from just before the prohibition era, many stored on their sides.

A few sat upright with the corks exposed, those had dried out and the seals failed. Those bottles that laid on their sides, were all intact, but so few, Jason chose to drink only one. And it was excellent!

An even better discovery, however, some soul in the past had stashed a treasure-trove of rye whiskey. “Robert’s Rye”, and each onion-shaped flask had a layer of rye-seeds on the bottom.

He felt that it was the reason for the rye whiskey was excellent, and he had many bottles with seals intact.

He sampled some of the potent nectar, but he was hungry and the whiskey gave him a pleasant buzz. He wanted dinner, however he needed to recharge the heat-exchanger first to get heat into the house otherwise a cold night was in store for him.

He tightened the hose to the valve and turned the handle, he watched the gauge on the cylinder rise as the system pressure rose and became the home’s central heat source as it transported heat from the geothermal hot-spot to the house.

The smell of baked potatoes and roast meat reached his nose. Tessa, his colleague from the university, cooked upstairs in the modernized kitchen while she warmed the upper floors as a side benefit while the central-heat units were offline. They had seen each other outside of work a few times. They always kept it on the down-low, Tessa was worried about the issue of staff fraternization. She was not yet tenured and did not want to lose her job because of her relationship with James.

But here, with the whiskey, wine, and snow so heavy on the ground no one would come by. A storm had dropped four-inches per hour for the last two hours on top of the six-feet of snow that fell before he had arrived Friday night and struggled long hours to get the big cylinder dragged through the basement door to the mouth of the mine.

The sweep needle on the pressure gauge was in the green pressure gauge. A flip of the breakers in order, green LED’s illuminated and made him smile. Electric power was now available.

He put the wrench away in his new toolbox, that Tessa bought him. He walked to the electric panel and read the displays. He pressed a switch on the wall and the lights in wall sconces blinked and flickered to life as electrical systems worked to perfection.

He wondered what might be wrong. It was too smooth. No project ever went that easy unless it was broken.

The Professor of Biochemistry laughed, with green lights on all power systems, he only needed to turn on the hot-tub on the patio at the wall switch. Tessa and he could sip ninety-year-old whiskey, sit in the bubbles of warm water and watch the snowstorm.

Maybe the weather might break and they could watch the stars dance in the heavens. Then showers and, he hoped, sleep with his arms around her.

“Dinner’s ready.” She called down.

“I have a surprise for you, up there!” He said, waited a heartbeat and flipped the circuit breaker to “On”.

The whole house lit up. LED rope lights he had wired in, illuminated with the effect of electronic icicles made the snow appear blue under the lights.

Tessa was impressed, breathless with the effect of the light show.

Tessa walked around with just a light work shirt, she had broken a sweat while she lifted boxes and cleaned in the old cabin, and made it more of a home with the triple-paned windows.

Which was fine in Jason’s point of view. With an oversized sleeveless shirt, sometimes he would get lucky and watch her accidentally flash him, her bare legs were smudged and dust covered while she wore shorts and sandals, she was an impressive person. A brilliant Doctor of Anthropology, a comptitor in the triathlon. A woman not afraid to get dirty. But then, she was a digger. She liked to dig up bones.  

He had just sat down with Tessa and she poured him more whiskey while they waited for the other couple to come down the stairs. They broke bread while they waited, his grandmother’s recipe that had baked all day with sprigs of fresh rosemary in the propane heated oven.

The conversation about the house, he apologized that she had to work when she should have relaxed and enjoyed the view.

Tessa’s smile was as bright as a sunrise. Tessa touched his cheek and kissed him deeply.

“It is my pleasure to help set up the cabin for him was her pleasure.

A rhythmic noise from upstairs, Doctor Lettie MacKay and her rebound boyfriend, Kevin Acker, from the School of Pharmacy were busy upstairs in the bedrooms. They were supposed to be upstairs to hang wallpaper, but the noise was not the sounds of paste and paper. Kevin always kept samples of ED drugs on his person and they were not yet downstairs for food.

“Can you two kids give it a break? You are not supposed to test the beds in each room! You are supposed to hang wallpaper!”

That was when the first scream, like a siren, echoed down the stairs.

Tessa and he ran upstairs into the arms of the half-naked Doctor MacKay who grabbed him and screamed in their faces that the wallpaper had come to life,

“It grew tenticles and grabbed at me! It tore my clothes when Kevin pulled me away and saved me!” She sobbed. “Oh my god, it grabbed and pulled him into the wallpaper!”

“Go down to the kitchen.” Jason said and looked into the room.

A lump on the wall looked as if some crazed paper-hanger covered an unfortunate person who stood there.

Jason grabbed a putty knife out of a plastic bucket to cut the paper-covered Kevin out, the colored wallpaper began to show details of Kevin’s face behind the branches and stylized birds printed on the wallpaper.

“Kevin!” Jason called.  And the associate professor looked at him for a moment from within the paper, then his image faded, and left the wallpaper flat and perfect and left Jason no place to cut.

He tried anyway, he scraped where Kevin was under the paper, but it was just a plaster wall. Kevin was no longer among the branches and trees of the wallpaper.

Screams again, downstairs. He ran down down the stairs, Tessa was at the door, her eyes rolled around her head in abject terror.

Lettie, stuck to the wall held her hands out as the texture of the wallpaper crawled the length of her arms to her fingers while she clutched at the air in failed attempts to save herself.

Jason slashed at the paper with the sharp corner of the putty knife they used to spackle the walls for new paper.

A high-pitched sound from the wallpaper, higher than the screams of the women, sounded as the wallpaper tore while Jason slashed at it with the metal blade.

The wallpaper moved on its own, in an attempt to pull Lettie into a  giant wrinkle that grew until looked like a mouth.

He grabbed his coworker by her left arm, he pulled hard on her and used his right foot to stomp the wallpaper flat against the wall until he tore it away from Lettie’s body.

The wallpaper left traces of paste on Lettie’s arms when he freed her and pulled her into his arms, they did not stop to consider the slime, instead they ran towards the the front door where Tessa screamed at them to hurry.

When they got close, door slammed shut and locked Tessa outside. Try a he might, with all his strength and a screwdriver to pry with, the door refused to open.

Jason realized Tessa’s danger, she had worn only the light work clothes she wore while she worked in the cabin and outside it was a cold that could kill.

Jason pointed to the basement and Tessa nodded, he and Lettie ran down the stairs, her legs lacerated from the branches of the wallpaper. In the basement, stone walls seemed less dangerous.

Jason showed Lettie where to sit and ran towards the basement’s heavy-timber doors like a football tackle and hit them at full speed…

And bounced off.

The gold mine might be a safe haven, but the doors were part of the house.

Tessa’s voice called his name, she was cold.

His mind raced, if he didn’t know better, there was a malevolence that had awoke when they worked in the house.

Tessa yelled his name again, feeble sounds on the wood where she pounded on the thick planks, her plead to come in out of the cold.

In a near panic, he looked at his work table.

The table! His mind screamed. I used that old ore-cart! It is all iron and it still sits on the rails in the floor!

He released the brake and took a deep swallow from the whiskey bottle for luck and swallowed a few of the rye grains. Then pushed the half-ton cart as hard as he could.

He hit the doors hard at a near sprint and a gap opened from the impact.

Tessa’s hand came through the gap in the door and Jason grabbed Tessa and pulled.

Ice cold, she shivered as she struggled to get inside, halfway through, the doors began to close on her leg. Tessa screamed from the pain of her leg as the door crushed it.

Jason grabbed a shovel and shoved it against the door for a wedge.

He shoved and struggled against the door with his shoulder, It gave an inch, then he pushed the shovel forward with his foot and forced the door wider agian. In one instant, he had a chance and he pulled Tessa free of the heavy timber doors, she clung to him. She wept from the cold, begged him to tell her what happened.

Jason took her to sit with Lettie and began to explain. Lettie turned to look at him, her eyes haunted.

No, not haunted, not haunted at all. 

She had no eyes!

Her once beautiful face now was an eyeless horror with a mouth that formed a big “O” of a silent scream. A tendril extended down from above to Lettie’s head and sucked life from her. Her skin had become mottled and pale as the house stole the woman’s essence.

Jason grabbed a hatchet from his workbench and jumped at the thread that drew the life out of Lettie like a tentacle with a million mouths. Time slowed down, as he swung the sharp hand-ax.

And missed.

“OH God!” He screamed as white fluid leaked out of the wound in her skull instead of human blood. “Oh god, I’m so sorry!”

He was the only one that could make it to the car. But Tessa would be in this house alone. Even if she was safe for the moment, in the corner behind the work table, between two rolls of…

Two rolls of…

Wallpaper!

He turned to where Tessa sat and he could only see a ball of wallpaper where he left Tessa, he could see her outline had become less distinct under the wallpaper that had slid around her like a web.

He leaped over the table with a box-cutter in hand and slashed at the cocoon of wallpaper around her, and found…

Paper. Just paper, wadded up and desiccated.

He was the only one left and the doors were ajar, too small to allow escape.

He pulled on the work table and rolled it to the deepest part of the mine that he could reach.

“Last drink in this house!” He shouted and took a long, deep drink of the whiskey bottle and smashed the bottle against the house foundation. “Fuck you!”

James crouched and braced his hands on the table, he pushed as hard as he could and gained momentum

With a thirty-foot start with the thousand-pound ram to break through the doors, Jason and the cart hit the doors at a full run, the left door trembled and creaked open.

He took advantage of the gap that opened, Jason dove through the gap before the heavy timber door slammed on the table time and again, the house tried to claim another victim.

He collapsed in the snow, it was strangely quiet, illuminated by the beautiful LED icicle lights he spent so much time to hang along the edge of the roof around the patio.

A beautiful and deadly structure.

He fell face first in the snow, his hands felt like they were on fire.

Pain! He groaned in agony. Pain, so much pain! 

It has from the snow! He looked at his hands, they were pale. Very pale.  Is my skin mottled? Or am I the wallpaper?

He stood and ran through the snow slipped and fell, cut his knees and tore open his paper-hands. Logical, educated Dr. Best, crawled on his elbows and knees and left a bloody trail in the snow behind him. He covered the mile in nearly an hour when he fell and rolled out on to the asphalt of Spicer road.

The ground rumbled, he could feel it. It was the house! It chased him on cedar pillar legs, the ground trembled with the evil hunger that stalked him.

Too tired and cold to run, he lay on the lonely mountain road and screamed to whichever spirit that he was sorry as lights from the porch bore down and engulfed him.

****

Jason awoke to the glow of a cardiac monitor. He focused on the display of his heart waveform before he realized he was in a hospital and the heart that was monitored, was his.

After two weeks, the hospital discharged Jason and days where police questionedby him about the three deaths ended.

Detectives took notes, wrote down all the professor said and described with vivid detail. Police then interviewed the physicians who attended to Jason’s wounds.

Jason obtained a copy of the detective’s report, and read it three weeks later, while he sat at his breakfast table.

“Doctor Jason Best, Ph.D. was found by snowplow driver, Honey Gareth in the middle of Spicer Dam Spur Road. The two days in question, where Doctor Best spent alone in the cabin at 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road. In the events that transpired on the weekend in question, Doctor Best discovered an old wine cellar stocked with wine and rye whiskey. Tests of opened whiskey bottles showed high levels of ergot alkaloids, consistent with acute ergot toxicity that caused visual and auditory hallucinations, per the physicians and specialists who attended to Dr. Best. This results that Dr. Best became convinced that he was with three other people who died.

Subsequent interviews with the named people, Doctor Contessa AKA “Tessa” Pershing is alive and well, continues to work at Ocean Bay Community College. Doctor Best is familiar to Doctor Pershing in that they have attended same faculty continued-education and office functions but denies any relationship that might exist between Doctor Best and herself.

Doctor Lettie MacKay is friends with Doctor Best, but states no knowledge of anyone named Kevin. Her spouse, Michael MacKay, works at Ocean Bay University as a Fine Arts Professor. Further, no address, student record or employment record of Kevin Acker is found.

To date, no evidence of deaths at this address on the weekend in question exists.

Interior of 24821 Spicer Dam Spur Road shows the wallpaper slashed and torn in the kitchen and third floor bedroom. The heavy timber barn door to the basement is off the hinge. Damage caused by a gold-rush era ore cart on rails used to batter the door open and a hatchet discovered imbedded into a can of white paint.(See attached photos) it is to note: Where Dr. Best said he struck a woman in the head with a hatchet, the hatch found someone embedded into a can of ‘Cottage Girl’ paint.  The ax had struck the paper label of the logo of the woman on the paint can.

A horizontal gold mine, dug circa 1850’s shows evidence of modern reinforcements and extensive work in a power room. Adjacent to the power room is the previously mentioned wine cellar. (See attached photos)

Ninety-six onion shaped, clear to light-blue glass bottles of honey-colored  fluid were found with apparent rye grain in the bottom of the bottles. Original labels, dated from 1910 to 1919 of quart-size printed with “Robert’s Rye Whiskey”. In the course of the investigation, the crime-scene team discovered two bottles opened, one empty, the second appeared three-quarters full.(See attached photos)

It is the conclusion of the investigation that Dr. Best  suffered from accidental ergot intoxication per the attached pertinent physician’s notes.

No complaints will be filed.

Lt. Liewess J. Jonah, investigator.”

 © 2015 Dash McCallen all rights reserved

“Extinction”

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Urgency

He had long named his car “Red” which was a touch of humor, being as it was black. The pair sped along the highway, sensors on the self-aware car kept them from losing control around the dumb modes of transportation. They moved along faster than the flow of traffic.

He was late. He ordered the emergency call to the leaders of geneticists, physicians and associated scientists the night before. But on his exit of his gated community, Anti-Vaxxers blocked the road, protesting his teams newest vaccine that suppressed genital warts in those that had it and prevented infection to those that were not previously exposed.

And now he was late, having to wait for the police to respond and clear the road of the two-dozen people who based their objections on the preachings of a holy man who declared that the vaccine interfered with the wrath of god on women having out-of-wedlock sex.

Doctor Camane Minouche raced in his small car. The picnic blanket sliding back and forth on the small shelf behind him as he took corners that challenged gravity. He was held in his seat only by belts and the intelligent post-war car that used the some fifty-thousand sensors around and inside the machine to keep the Doctor safe and secure.

Into the parking lot they flew, dust and cats ran from the speeding, wheeled missile. The team of machine and human. The Doctor spoke to the car, but it was a one-way conversation only. Long ago, the car chose to keep the self-awareness and abilities to it’s own heart.

“Faster, faster.” The Doctor whispered out loud while he typed the finishing touches on his presentation and saved the graphics to the fingernail drive. “Flippin’ late!”

The car calculated he would be five-minutes behind the clock no matter what it could do, they had made up twenty-minutes on the highway, blowing through a speed-trap and a drone traffic enforcement attempted to pull them over, but was left far behind as the small car jammed radio frequencies and applied greater power to the wheels while the Doctor read and re-read his report and talked on the phone.

Only once did Camane look up and give the command to throttle back, he became alarmed at the speed that the stripes in the road were passing by.

They were traveling over two-hundred kilometers-per-hour at that time. So Red-the-black-car dialed the speed back.

Never would the Doctor know that their speed was nearly fifty-percent faster before he looked up.

Tires smoked slightly when Red wheeled into the parking lot, Camane jumped out of the small car and ran up the steps to the door, nearly forgetting his briefcase in the process.

The picnic blanket slid to the edge of the seat, filling the interior of the car with its piquant odor of grass, sun and laughing memories that were lost to the Doctor as he headed to the meeting with the panel of public health care leaders.

Still straightening his tie, Doctor Minouche set his papers on the podium and cleared his throat and put on some reading glasses.

He did not need the glasses, he had read the reports so many times, he had it memorized.

Pulling out a fingernail sized USB memory stick, he pushed it almost flush into the display and picked up the remote control, advancing forward to the infographics.

“Thank you for your patience, there are some folks in this world that don’t seem to appreciate my appointment schedule.” The audience chuckled as he drew a breath. “Ladies and gentlemen. Due to an undisclosed cold-war era disaster, the human race has approximately two-hundred years of viability left.”

He looked up and moved the informational graphic forward one frame.

“In the latter-half of the twentieth century, countries that had ruled with racist laws to keep people separate, developed a short-lived virus based on a s-oi virus, they then released this virus in general population of a prison in a country on the African continent to reduce the numbers of “Undesirable elements” in their society. During this time, one United States Warrant Officer stationed at the Embassy there, returned home on leave in a three-to-twenty-one day window after the government inoculated prisoners with this virus with aerosol dispersion.” He flipped the page and changed to the next infographic. “Sometime during this period, one or more of the prison population escaped or released. The airborne infection at the time was mild-to-moderate and considered a failure by the government.”

The infographic leading up to a negative response.

“This resulted in a failure of followup on infected and released prisoners.” He pressed the button on the remote again and changed to the US. “In the meantime, Warrant Officer Pers Hershey was exposed, left without feeling any symptoms and returned to the United States. Records indicate that he passed through the system at Fort Dix, but portions are missing. We only know he was  seen for a low-grade fever and mild vertigo. At some point he came in contact with other recruits and became Patient-Zero for the swine-flu outbreak in and around Fort Dix.”

The Doctor clicked forward to the next frame, showing infection rates among recruits.

“At this point, one death and a number of people infected with this virus that could be described as a collection of poorly assembled DNA moving about in loose formation.” He pointed to the Capitol of the United States. “At this time, alerted to the outbreak, the government issued vaccines against the H1N1 Swine flu. The debacle that followed was poorly understood as why it occurred. Theories focused of the vaccine’s adverse reactions.”

A click again, changing the screen of his infographic presentation.

“This was, in fact, a reaction to the existing infection that was ongoing but alerted no one due to the mild nature of the infection. While they intended the vaccine to prevent infection, due to the influenza that the laboratory overseas constructed with, considered even by mid-seventies standards as archaic, no one realized they dealt with an ongoing infection.”

Another infograpic of two virus’ interacting.

“The unintended response of the existing virus to the vaccine that the government distributed nationwide, the virus was altered and increased the transmission rate and capability while mitigating the physical symptoms of fever and muscular aches.”

A hand raised.

“Doctor…” The woman spoke up. “I’m Doctor Sheena Westlake, Director of Emergency Services at Metro-Memorial Medical Center. This is not an emergency, you are giving us ancient history, both our vaccines and detection are generations past those days.”

“Hi Doctor Westlake, we met a few years ago at a coffee Klatch conference.” He nodded. “Yes, this is history, but please bear with me, I am nearly finished.” He smiled. The dark-skinned woman was beautiful, if built like a door with square shoulders and the look of a warrior when roused . “The combined DNA of the first generation technology influenza and the vaccine combined and created a world-wide pandemic that was so mild in symptomatology, no one pursued the effects.”

He pressed the forward button again, displaying a slide of twenty-three chromosomes overhead.

“Y-mediated infertility has been the problem since the seventies. It is progressive and becoming widespread. The mild nature of the influenza, no one followed up on the effects of the virus. The damage is irreversible and the results are no male children are born. Since ten-years after the initial pandemic that the rare person ever saw their doctor and fewer still had bloods drawn. “

“So Doctor what are you saying?” Doctor Westlake asked again. “Boys are going to be born brain-damaged?”

A chuckle from one side of the room.

“Aren’t they all? At least until they are eighteen.”

Doctor Minnouche laughed.

“In this case, you are correct. Male versus female births have fallen out of balance in recent years.” He continued. “In short, at the rate of damage and the skewed birth ratios between genders with female births dominating at this time in history, in the next few generations, the male of the human race will become an endangered species, pushed towards extinction in about one hundred-fifty years, and the human race will become non-viable in about two-hundred years.”

“I’ll take questions now.”

Another hand raised.

“Professor Fenix Stone, Atlantic Bay University of Biological Sciences, Bar Harbor.” An older man, with intense black eyes, seemingly born before there was hair. “How can you estimate the damage to the y-Chromosome from that one event?”

“Thank you professor.” The Doctor frowned. “We have had samples from a broad spectrum of people for hundreds of years. My team, consisting of over two-hundred professionals as of last month, have collected said samples from every source that could be dated. The y-chromosome has been steadily decreasing in size over millions of years, but since the swine flu of the mid-seventies, the gene that was part of the genetically modified virus has spread, and destroyed parts of the male gene. We have the good fortune, if you would like to call it that, to have obtained a sample that has remained frozen and forgotten in the biological research facility where they kept this virus in deep-freeze storage, along with the notations of one Doctor Van Skeet, who, as best we can ascertain, died in an accident relating to his research.”

The Doctor paused.

“He became infected with his own monster with a lack of sufficient protective protocols.”

“This is wrong. There is no way to target just the y-chromosome.” A voice from the back called out.

“Actually, yes, just because it is not in our history of doing so does not mean we cannot. We have identified genes on bacillus and virus for years and creating vaccines against them.”

“Can we stop this damage to our genome?” Another voice asked.

“No, the damage is done. It was a biological weapon designed to do what it did, but the government then assumed the illness was self-limiting, which was a fail, and affect only a specific group. Another fail.” The Doctor gave a big sigh. “As of today, the current birth rate of viable human males has dropped below twenty percent. The reports based on this information on records dated thirty-months ago. The birth rate has certainly dropped since then by a few tenths of a percent.”

“You are incorrect.” A tall, dark-skinned man with an Australian Accent stood up. “Doctor Syd Gayiri, Headmaster of the School of Biotech Sciences at Toowoomba University. There are boys born in my community every month. My sister just had a healthy baby boy.”

“Correct, he is healthy for now. The odds, however, that his children will be girls, or there will be a child born to him with special needs. The degradation, by limiting the scope of DNA mixing is much worse. Thus we propose to keep communities robust is to promote outside family marriage and children in close-blood relations minimized, this improves the length of time the human male genome will become non-viable.” Doctor Minouche. “We will need to evolve into a mono-parous species to survive.”

The Doctor pointed at a severe looking woman sitting in the front row.

“Sonja Gutierrez has two sons, oh, sorry.“ Sonja is from the University of Spain, Madrid. But you all have read her paper of the stresses of caring for two special needs children. I would venture that it is both the boys?” Camane asked.

“Yes. Is this to do with the damage to the gene?” She asked.

“It would take some testing, do you remember getting ill with the flu during that time?”

“Doctor, I am not that old.” Doctor Gutierrez laughed. “That was before my time.”

“My apologies. Do you have any brothers?”

“Um. No. No brothers, I had one, but he was sickly and died very young…” She trailed off. A cold feeling crept over the room.

“Anyone else here have patients, family members, co-workers, classmates that have had problems with children— and were the health problems with boys?” Doctor Minouche traced a line on the projected infographic with a laser pointer. “Damage to the y-chrome is a pattern that we can follow. Initially it looks random, but if you watch as the gaps fill in on a chart, there are patterns. Closed communities that have had contact with the virus, the interbreeding magnifies the damage. A given group that mixes with others mitigates the damage.”

Taking a deep breath, he continued.

“Segregation, isolation, and staying with a small community will accelerate and magnify the damage. It’s proposed that the y-chrome could be extinct in more than one-hundred thousand years, however, at the current rate of change, computer models show between one-hundred and three-hundred years, with two-hundred being the mid-point.”

“So, Doctor, you are saying that we could see the end of male births in our children’s lifetime?”

“Yes. Perhaps, in a worst-case scenario, our own lifetimes.”

Tapping on tablets sounded, pens on paper, disbelief evaporating like a coastal fog on a summer’s day as the scientists and physicians crunched numbers. Writing notes on personal digital assistants, notepads and tablets.

“We have a century and counting. If  two-centuries pass, and if we do nothing, there will be no naturally born males and the human species will be dependant on engendering fertile males with an XX karyotype or en vitro fertilization.” The statement hung in the air.

“Each of you has submitted an email to attend here, the transcript and graphics are being sent to you as we speak.” He nodded to an off-stage assistant. “Every page that we displayed here we researched and signed off, including the Surgeon General’s office of the United States is on board with this. I must remind you, this is not for public dissemination, yet. We are looking for this panel to bring forth something larger than my team can, we are reporting only what we find. The effort to repair the human genome before it is beyond fixing is up to us. If this information is released for wide-spread publication, it is possible we will set off a world-wide self-destruct in all religions, this requires the opposite of what religions demand. Secularism is the only way to go, no borders, no religious prohibitions. It is time that we look at ourselves as one race or dwindle into extinction.”

“Doctor, do you have the fix in your proposal? Are there repairs of the y-chrome that we can  act upon?” A man in a black business suit with long gray hair pulled back into a ponytail, flanked by two young men with shaven heads and sharp eyes that constantly scanned the room. “Doctor Simon Connery MD MPH PhD, Director United States Centers for Disease Control.”

The secondary introduction made Camane nod.

“Simon, you have spent too much time in school, and welcome.” A chuckle from the audience. “At this point, we do not have any genetic repairs to speak of. We do need the resources of the CDC and everywhere around the world to focus on saving the human race.”

He looked around the room.

“Or we may as well have never met and make plans to fill a time capsule for the next rise of intelligent species.” The grim tone of his voice hung in the air. “Without cooperation, we are soon to be endangered.”

“Doctor,” A younger man approached him. “I’m Steven Rivers, senior reasearch geneticist at Southern California University at Dinuba. Although I may not have a cure for the birth rate of males, I may have a longevity plan and increase the number of years for research.”

“How much of an increase?” Another voice sounded.

“I will have to share my work, but it depends on the gene we work on.”

“Telomere work is ongoing, nothing new.” A male voice sounded.

“Not telomeres, something new…”

“Ladies, gentlemen. Please.” The Doctor brought them back to focus on the issue he was speaking on. “Let us read and discuss what my team has worked on and schedule a meeting, not an information release to this esteemed board

“Speak for yourself,” A woman’s voice sounded from the back. “Women will rule.”

It would be funny if not for the serious tone of the presentation.

Gathering up their notes and tablets, the group filed out.

Walking to Red, the car. He held his one-way conversation to the best friend a person could have in a non-organic entity.

“No one believed me. Except the boy-genius from California.” He told the little car built at the old car building company, Terran Green Machines, before the military absorbed the company by decree. “Red, we are screwed.”

Dancing in the dark (poem)

Standard

Moon is supposed to rise

the night air, chills the flies

A cricket slowly rubs its wings

The silence broken by the sound

A strong youth races home in the chill air.

His highest gear as he peddles hard.

A young-old man, bad news as his best friend grows so ill.

A liter of vodka, in the night chill.

A missed stop sign and a broken heart.

A bent bicycle.

Another family torn apart.

In jail he sits while his love draws her final breaths

One empty man

One empty bottle

Two empty deaths

Prison

A life a wreck

Release

On a winters eve

The moon is supposed to rise

At Hell’s Kitchen, Spicer Meadow road

Standing on the precipice 

Two empty bottles

One empty man

No heart

He flies.

His gift to the world, a vertical epic

They once called him Doctor of Art

Then they called him monster,

who tore lives apart

Now they called him dead.

Flee

Standard

Flee

Fracking.

That’s what they called it, but whatever the title it might have, it was a disturbance in places long hidden from the light.

Humans dug deeply into the earth, disturbing the ancient bedrock. Minor quakes rattled places that humans had yet to explore.

Perhaps they should not. For there are places in the earth that were buried so deep as to be forgotten.

They should remain forgotten.

But not this day.

All that remained for those still standing, with all their maps and explorations, was

Flee 2nd cover

1. Brisbane

The red haired Yank drew his bow and sighted over the arrow at the horror that approached him from forty-paces away.

Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.

Thirty paces and closing, its breath wheezed audibly in decaying lungs. This was a fresh-dead human that could walk faster than the other undead.

Twenty paces.

His focus was a laser point as he aimed, he pushed fear of approaching death down into a small compartment in his soul.

He waited, measuring.

Fifteen paces.

The eyes of this once-human had not yet become milky. Its vision was nearly equal to the living. The Archer took a deep breath and let it out slowly, at one time this was a handsome youth.

Five paces.

Archer shot the arrow into the left eye of the walking nightmare, it stiffened and fell over backwards.

“Why do you shoot them in the eye like that?” Alexander Frobisher asked.

RCMP when he was working, he was a Sergeant and a leader of the Emergency Response Team in his section, now he was not so sure since the fall of society.

“Bone is thinner there, with luck it’ll punch through hole that the optic nerve passes. It’s less stress on my arrows and I hate trying to build new ones. I have tried build wood arrows, but I failed. Wood arrows are a challenge, even starting as dowels.” Archer said. “But, I’m learning. Each time I work one, I’m better. We need to figure out how to build these in case we cannot find any high tech arrows in stores someday.” The Archer pulled out a straight dowel of a wood that Frobisher could not recognize. It was fletched and had a tip made from a silver spoon he had pounded into shape with a discovered hammer, but was no arrow that Archer was willing to shoot. “Ah well, let’s take the food to the group. ” Archer said, as he pulled his arrow out of the head of the nightmare that had been walking at him— it was an odd moment of black-humor that struck his mind as Frobisher watched.

A dead-dead person.

“Stay close to the flat of the buildings, away from the bushes.” The Sergeant said as they headed out. His own weapon at the ready, made of a cricket bat and the front chain-wheel of a bicycle. An effective battle-ax with a spiked edge.

The Archer carried a bow that he had found in a house. A simple recurve bow, he shot with an instinctive skill. Always in the eye of his target with devastating effect, they always went down in a mundane, quiet fall.

You could say that they were longtime friends if you met them on the street. But they had only met three weeks prior when the world fell into ruin.

Funny how such bonds are forged in the crucible of chaos.

Chaos.

It began in the land of Oz.

In Darwin, the first news of it hit the television. A virus the newscasters said.

A jetliner had declared an emergency, crash-landed, breaking into two large sections. The walking cadavers emerged from the debris, quickly overwhelming the emergency crews and security forces.

The Archer figured out the secret with head shots. Gunfire attracted attention and mobbed those that used such weapons. The silent arrows made a path without attention.

The shuffling dead did not know or communicate when an arrow had stilled one of their own.

The pair made their way to the bank that the group had held up in. Hiding behind a blast-resistant wall, the group was a mix of people who followed the Archer after he walked down the boulevard, creating a hail of death that cleared a path through the Edgar Allan Poe nightmares pounding on the walls of their tourist coach.

Andrea St. George the tour guide and her driver Jameson Curtis were the first to join the Yank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight, an attorney from the United States that worked for the ACLU, Zac Wood from Scotland, a student ambassador, joined the group on another of the Yankee’s forays at a bus depot. Now they stood behind the cage where they could pull the safe door shut if they needed to, while Andrea held a single-shot rifle ready.

The Archer and Sergeant Frobisher tapped on the doors to be let into the bank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight of the ACLU opened the door, holding a shotgun she had discovered in the bank. The men stepped in while the sharp eye of the lawyer watched the street.

Behind Stormy stood, with a pump shotgun taken from an abandoned police cruiser, Gallisa “Gail” Blachere, Ph.D, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Ed.D had a barely controlled rage in her eye, welcomed the two explorers back

“Mighty hunters bring food!” The Archer laughed and opened his bag of canned goods. “Sorry there are no fresh foods.”

Stale biscuits and beer were common in the second bag that the Canadian carried. Two jars of Vegemite he set on the counter.

“You have taste for a Yank!” Andrea laughed and picked it up. “A bit of heaven on earth you have here.”

“Maybe. I bet Al has done better with the beer and biscuits.” The Archer said. “Eat up, we need to move out as soon as we finish. There is a police station down the road with a gated fence. “

“Why do we need to move?” Zac asked.

“The bank is too soft of a target.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “A police station is more easily protected I’d say, it’s safer.”

Praise the lord and pass a biscuit.” Archer said. 

#

Chapter 2. Eating Well


“We need to move before sunset. Tomorrow we need to head down to the marina.” The archer said. “I’d say if we head south, we will head into the mess at Darwin. Sydney is the best way out of this hole.”

Aw, you don’t like my BrissVegas?” Andrea laughed.

The archer chuckled while accepting a biscuit from Andrea, who was instructing the Yankee on how to eat the Vegemite and bread before he continued.

“The boats down at the marina will allow us to sail with safety.” The archer said softly as he choked on the Aussie treat. “Damned lucky for beer.” He gasped out.

You Yanks have no taste.” Andrea laughed. “I told you to take a bite, not pop the whole muffin in your mouth. It will pull your tongue out by its root and beat you over the head with the bloody end.”

“I do have a taste, I like beer.” He winked. “And it was bite sized after all! This is saltier than ocean water.”

“We will need to fight our way to the marina.” Al interrupted. “It’s a long ways there to run and the how those creatures move about, we need more ammunition.”

“Guns equal attention.” Stormy said. “I watched it happen when they first attacked the police roadblock. Shooting our way there isn’t viable.”

The chance that saved your ass in that bus.” The archer said as he stood. “These… zombies… were going after the cops and their guns, that kept them away, they were inside the terminal going after the officers that were making so much noise. Those that were injured, turned. The others won’t be awarded medals for bravery, but they lived by running, it was FUBAR.”

FUBAR?” Zac asked. “What’s FUBAR?”

Fucked up beyond all repair.” The archer said.

Or reason.” Al injected.

Or recovery.” Gail added.

Nodding and chuckling, the archer continued. “I needed to choose, clear the coach or the cops out. I opted for the civilians, it was a tough call. But… Cops took an oath, you folks did not.”

His lowered his voice to almost a whisper describing the scene, looking at a bit of plastic on his finger.

It was a nightmare. I took down thirty of them beasts before they knew I was there. Before they knew anything, I had recovered enough arrows to cover the difference. That’s when I yelled through the door.”

Well. Let’s dash over to the police station. It’s six blocks away, but in the right direction of the marina.” Al said putting his hand on the archer’s shoulder.

Let’s walk, no tripping.” Andrea said softly, kissing the crimson-haired Yank on the cheek. “Archer, I’m glad you made the choice.”

#

3. Stepping Out

 

The door of the bank opened quietly, there were few creatures in the street, not one of them alerted to the humans.

“Okay, quiet, cover each other’s back. I’m first, Stormy to my right, Andrea and Zac in the middle, cover sides and up. Gail, Al, you have the rear and up. Keep them from dropping in on us from fire-escapes or windows.” Archer said as he placed an arrow on his bow.

“Why is the Mountie not first?” Gail asked.

“I shoot faster with my rig than he can until he gets practice.”

Al loaded up a vertical crossbow, holding it so that anywhere he looked, the arrow aimed naturally.

When they stepped out into the street, a single shabby ex-human shambled towards them from where they were going. The Archer loosed his arrow and it fell to the ground as they walked quietly towards the police station. No other of the animated dead that patrolled the area

The Archer paused as they walked past the body and pulled the arrow out of the head of the horror-come-archery target.

The Archer kept his place on point as they headed to the station, an arrow nocked, his bow ready to draw in a heartbeat if a need arose. and carefully moved forward to the gate of the fortress-like structure. It stood ajar and opened silently on high security hinges.

They dragged the body of a large Rottweiler by its thick harness, Al cried when he saw it wore a badge. The head of a half-eaten corpse of the police dog blocked the spring-loaded gate from fully closing. Toothmarks on the badge where something had chewed, obliterating the badge number. Torn bodies lay about, decaying in the concrete courtyard. The K-9 cop did not die gently, as evidenced of a furious fight by the bodies in the courtyard.

“Never thought a dog could tear limbs off of a body.” Jameson said.

“Canine officer. They teach them well and they require robust intelligence with these dogs.” Al said softly, tracing his index finger over the mutilated badge.

A bullet-proof glass and steel enclosed observation area inside the building controlled the gate.

Sergeant Frobisher, quickly figured out how to operate the lock and secured all the exits with a control panel.

“Excellent.” Al said. “Now we can relax.”

“No, now we need to check all the cells and rooms.” The Archer said. “I’m not sleeping without clearing this place from top to bottom.”

“You need to sleep, no matter what.” Andrea told The Archer. “When was the last down-time for you?”

“It has been a day or so.” The Archer nodded. “We will rest when the building’s secure.”

“Al and Zac stay here. Stormy, Gale and Jameson upstairs. Andrea and I will search below.” Archer said.

The Sergeant nodded.

“Here,” The Sergeant reached over into a locker as the groups were getting ready to leave. “I found these radios. Keep them on this channel I selected. Radio checks every five-minutes, everything is voice activated, so I will hear you the moment there’s a sound louder than a deep breath. As the Archer said, no rest until this entire building is cleared.”

Archer taped an LED torch (as the label on it said) to the side of his bow and he adjusted the beam to fill a room with the glow from the diminutive light. Andrea stood next to him loading a police shotgun liberated from a gun-rack they found. She had used a key she found in a drawer and was quite proud of her discovery that allowed all the other firearms in the station available to the others.

“Right, ready.”  Andrea said as she racked the riot gun and chambered a shell. “Buckshot and slugs. That’s what this girl is made of.”

For good measure, the Aussie filled her pockets and a bandolier with shotshells she had found while digging around the observation port. Al pointed it was not police issue.

But Andrea could not care less.

#

4. Revelation

 

The door was ajar to the training room, only tables and chairs.

Vampire Skull Northern Ondode/Nosferatu

Image of Ondode/Nosferatu type Vampire Skull.

But they were not alone.

Movement…

Weapons turned the same time and Andrea hissed at the Archer.

Stop walking.”

It was a shadow that did not fill with light — then it was gone.

Something hissed at Andrea, avoiding the lights as it moved.

It went under the corner of a table, knocking over chairs.

“Come out!” Andrea sounded braver than the Archer felt.

The shadow charged as Andrea pulled the trigger and drove the serpent-like shadow backwards for a moment, an arrow buried its tip into the head of the shadow causing a shriek of anger, a desk erupted into splinters and sawdust as a dozen pellets tore apart the pressed wood construction whilst Andrea tracked the shrieking creature that moved like a cat on crack cocaine and too much espresso.

Clawed hands gripped the arrow and pulled the shaft out of the right eye socket, the eye reforming as it did.

The Archer’s earpeice buzzed. “REPORT! Who is shooting?”

“Sorry, busy!” Archer answered as Andrea rocked the room again with her scattergun.

Archer blinked to clear his eyes from the dust fell from the ceiling. He shot an arrow at the wrong shadow and it stuck out in a stupid angle that made him shake his head while nocking another shaft to the string, tracking the correct shadow – the one with teeth.

“Call back later!” Andrea yelled into in her mic. “We’re killing shit!”

The shadow was too close this time, charging like a cat as she racked in another shell. An arrow intercepted the creature, penetrating it in the left eye and knocked the attacker off-balance.

The shotgun fired again, destroying its face and the arrow. The black creature did a back-flip, knocking over a video projector that shattered on the floor. The creature landed on all fours and its face unbelieveably rebuilt as it launched at Andrea again as a winged quadruped.

Andrea kicked a table against the wall and pinned the attacker — It was no zombie, but suddenly bi-pedal. Still, its features could not yet be determined beyond fangs and cat-like eyes— struggling against the wall, pinned in an awkward way.

However it was immensely strong and changing shapes, wriggling from behind the heavy desk that Andrea held against it.

Point-blank range, she fired another load into the inhuman face. The shotgun blowing a hole in the wall behind the attacker the size of her fists. But she might as well have spit on it for all she had done with the gunpowder and lead.

Gristle and meat, black blood and bone splattered on the wall, and then just… jumped… back to the struggling body. Then a tickle of wind and a swishing sound at her ear and would later be angry with Archer over how close the arrow was that flew past her head.

The angry shriek and gnashing of teeth stopped as the creature choked, clawing at a wooden arrow stuck in its chest, then collapsed into a pile of bones and ash.

“Wh-wh-w… ” The Archer, already nocked another arrow. “The.. Son of a… Holy… Shiiii…Fuuu… what… HELL!” His eyes as large as a car’s headlight as he searched for the best profanity.

“F’k’n oath!” She said, nodding with the Yankee. Still tracking what was left of the attacker with the pool of light that was the aim-point of the twelve-gauge.

Thundering footsteps down the hall announced that Al and company were coming as backup.

No sneaking up on a bloke with that crowd.” Andrea said to Archer as the Al kicked the door open and entered with a shotgun at the ready, followed by Stormy and Gail each with submachine guns, lasers crisscrossing, looking for a target.

You shouldn’t talk, that thing is LOUD.”

“What the hell was going on down here? Could you keep the room at least in one piece?” the Canadian Cop surveying the room and the holes in the sheetrock.

The Archer picked up a skull off the floor and walked out of the room. The skull had too many fangs in its mouth as he looked it over in the lighted hallway, then he handed it to Al.

“This is what attacked us.” Archer said. “I believe we woke it up.”

“It’s so light.” The flesh crumbled under his fingers leaving polished bone if he rubbed firmly. “It’s so dry.” Sharp teeth glinted in the harsh hallway’s light.

“Not when I first shot it. It crumbled and dried up in seconds when I hit it with my wood-shafted arrow.” Archer reported.

“Aluminum arrows had no effect.” Andrea nodded. “Neither did the buckshot from the riot gun.”

“Wood-shafted arrow? What are you talking about?” Al asked. “What the hell?”

Andrea and The Archer looked at each other and laughed.

“My words precisely.” Archer said. “We are fighting something besides a virus I would say.”

“What does that mean?” Gale asked. “You’re talking in riddles.”

“It means,” Archer said, “that skull you hold, goes into a consecrated cemetery. One blessed by someone of the cloth, toss that in a hole of a cemetery and it won’t rise again.”

“Rise? A-a-again?” It was Zac.

“That,” The Archer pointed to the skull. “is a vampire, a Dracula-like creature, I would wager. It kept changing shape while we fought it.”

“BULL!” Jameson yelled. “The news explicitly said it was a virus!  We are not fighting something so profoundly… so profound…. so… F’k’ng WRONG!  NO! You are not telling me that it’s a lie! An explicit, bald-faced LIE? THIS IS JUST A…

“Jameson! CALM DOWN” Gail slapped the coach driver so hard he fell over.

“Coincidence.”  The downed man moaned out.

There is nothing in real-life as vampires!” Zac said, echoing Jameson’s disbelief. “That is only in movies.”

There are no zombies, either. But we have seen otherwise, haven’t we?”

Is it dead?” Jameson pleaded.

No.” Gail said. “If Archer is right and the legends hold true, it is in a hibernation state, drip some blood into the skull and it will wake up. That is why we need to separate the head from the body and buried at a blessed cemetery.”

Blessed cemetery? Aren’t they all?” Jameson asked. Coming back to grips with himself. “I’m sorry about that.  Vampires terrified me as a child.”

No.” Stormy said. “Some even have consecrated and unconsecrated ground within a single graveyard. We need to choose where to bury that skull carefully.”

“Should we put garlic in it?” Zac asked.

“You brought back some garlic powder and garlic salt with the last shopping spree you and the Canadian did.”

“Stuff it, bag it and bury it.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “But where?”

“There is a church up the way.” Andrea pulled at her ear. “I don’t recall the kind of church. Catholic maybe, but I am not positive.”

“Catholic, Jewish,” Archer shrugged. “Could be a Shaolin temple for all I care, so long as it involves holy ground.”

“Let’s make it done.” Al ordered.

2 Dracul Skulls ("Noble" caste, Possibly "Royal" Ref. Van Helsing, Et al, "Identification of skulls" Copyleft 1901 Royal Underground press.) in 2 views.  Left skull buried in bag of garlic under unknown church, skul

#

 

 

 

5. Debriefing


The group walked into the cafeteria , Zac was carrying the skull, carefully turning it over in his hand as they all sat down..

Archer poured himself a coffee in a styrene cup from a stack he had found in a cabinet, handing one to Andrea and to Al.

So what happened down there?” Al asked.

Archer took a tentative sip of the steaming black water while Andrea spoke.

“We entered the classroom and I would hazard a guess that it was asleep and we surprised it. It wasn’t even aware we were in the building.” Andrea said to Al as she sat with the others in what was once a cafeteria.

“If Andrea had not seen it and fired first, I’m not sure we would have survived. It came straight at her and my aim was not on. I shot the wrong shadow.”

Stormy found some herbal tea in a cabinet, saying it would be better for Archer, she took away his coffee.

You sure I can’t have the coffee?”

Stormy gave Archer an icy look and shook her head. “I’m worried about your caffeine intake.”

“I was lucky, it happened to come over the table where I was pointing the riotgun, I pulled the trigger when it startled me.” Andrea said.

Al chuckled and turned to the Archer.

“How did you decide to shoot it with that arrow you made from a dowel? I know you carry that one you keep fooling around with. What made you think of that?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure, but if I was wrong, we were in for a hell of a fight. But, one way to destroy a vampire is to run it through the heart with a stake.”

“Okay,” Al pulled at his ear. “What you are getting at?”

“Okay, wooden stake in the chest. Can it be thrown? Could it be larger? A spear? Wooden shafted and driven through the chest?”

“Um, yes, it follows.”

“Okay then what is the difference between an arrow and a spear? A javelin and an arrow? Size? So, I used that wooden arrow that I have been working on.”

“You thought that during the fight?”

“Well,” Archer chuckled, “A significant deal more than that, but I’m being succinct about it.”

“Heh, my friend, if you think that fast after you drink your coffee, don’t you ever quit.”

Everyone except Stormy chuckled, who failed to appreciate the humor in Archer living on caffeine.

#

6. A Good Night


“Okay, we are cleared, top to bottom. Windows are secured, we have a room for us to sleep in. Who will take the first watch?” Al asked.

The Archer raised his hand.

“I’ll take the night half.”

“No.” Stormy, Gale and Andrea made a harmony of the word.

“Sorry, you need some sleep.” Gale said.

“Besides, you reek.” Andrea pointed out. “If I wake up and you are standing there, I will shoot your Yankee arse for one of those walking dead.”

“Okay, shower. Then I will do the watch.”

“No,” Stormy Knight argued. “Is it true that you have not slept at all? Then you need to sleep.”

Archer shook his head.

“Okay, just lay down for awhile. Rest.”

“Oh, all right. I’ll relax and recuperate for a bit. Al could you do first watch?”

“Naw, right now I need some shut-eye for a couple hours. I’m beat. I’ll volunteer Jameson. He’s slept quite well the last few nights.”

Jameson cleared his throat.

“Archer never woke anyone for the next watch, he did the whole shift!”

“No matter.” Andrea said. “You have first watch. Archer has a night off.”

The Archer shook his head slightly and winked at Jameson.

“YOU!” Stormy pointed a finger at the Yank. “Gingersnap, off to the showers with you. The men’s side has a shower system. I looked it over when checking out for any nasties that might be lurking there. You wash up and then lay down.”

“Your clothes, too, deposit them outside the door of the showers. There is a laundry . We’ll need to wash all our clothes.”

Heh.” The Archer said without trying to hide the humor. “Lawyers will always take the shirt off your back.”

The look from the attorney of the United States was enough to for the fearless Archer to move quickly at her command.

Archer spoke loudly as he walked down the stairs, “Clean mind, clean body; pick one.”

Anyone else want to cross swords? I will send them to the showers, too.”

Gail raised her hand. “With him?”

Andrea laughed and raised her hand. “Community shower?”

Oh hush. I’m first in that case.” Stormy laughed. “I like the redhead.”

We all do.” Andrea and Gail said in chorus.

#

7. Morning’s Early Light


Stormy nudged Andrea before dawn.

“Mm- mmph.” It was Andrea’s wittiest conversation she could have before morning coffee— her “Cuppa”.

Looking around Andrea nudged Gail.

“Wh’.” Was the best that the petite, muscular blond woman could verbalize as she stirred out of the best nighttime hibernation in a long while. She sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“The Archer is gone. Jameson is asleep.” Stormy said, matter

“Jameson!” Andrea threw a pillow at the coach driver with uncanny accuracy. “When did you come in?”

“Not long after Archer finished his shower. All you shelia’s went to bed, Al was asleep, he was up and said he was my relief and you were okay with it.”

In the control room, Al and the Archer were talking.

“ARCHER!” The women yelled as they came down the hallway.

“Uh-oh. Busted.” The Canadian chuckled. “You violated curfew.”

“Better to apologize than to ask permission.” Archer winked.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping.” Rachel said.

“You said to rest, and I did. I rested for an hour but could not catch any luck on sleep, so I came up here so that I would not disturb anyone.”

Stormy grumbled like distant thunder with lightning flashing her eyes, living up to her nickname.

“Men and children, the only difference are their sizes.” She said to Andrea.

Andrea laughed, looking at the two men that continued to gaze out the window at the outside world.

“What are you blokes looking at?” Andrea asked.

“Well,” Al said and looked out the window. “Birds.”

“Listen.” The Archer opened the heavy, armored-glass door to the outside courtyard.

The sounds of birds singing in the early morning light.

“I have not heard that in over a month. Birds stopped singing when all this happened.” Andrea said as she walked to the door listening to the music of nature’s composition for the first time in a long while. “What’s changed?”

“I’ve been standing watch for the last four hours. ” Archer said, Stormy sighed at this news with fire in her eyes. “There has been not a single shuffler meander by. Not one.”

“Are they gone?”

“I couldn’t know about that, just that I have not seen them from the observation area. The only change is that we destroyed that vampire yesterday. After Al and Jameson ran down the street and took it into a church. We can rest assured it is not in control of anything at the moment.”

“Control?” Jameson yawned as he stumbled in. “Y’all disturbed m’ sleep.”

“I’ll do more than just disturbing your sleep.” Gale was dangerous sounding. “I should kick your arse down the hallway and back for not finishing your shift.”

After my run down to the church there and all.” Jameson said, sounding a little more awake.

Shut it!” Gail said, then turning to the Canadian. “Taking it into a church killed it?”

Zac, Jameson and I took it down the road to the church— Catholic by the by— and when Jameson dropped it into a baptismal tub full of water. It bubbled and then burst into a flame, it was quite impressive.” Al said. “You’d think we dropped it into a vat of acid and gasoline, eh. It was quite exciting for a moment.”

“Yes, I would venture a guess that that did it.” The Archer continued. “I’m not positive, just a theory. Now that it is lighter, there are bodies are visible, lying all around out there. Those bodies— over there and there — we didn’t shoot them. It looks like they collapsed suddenly, what ever it is that energizes them was abruptly cut off.”

“The vampire?” Stormy’s asked. “Are you saying the vampire controlled these zombie creatures?”

“That is what I’m supposing.”

“So you think it was controlling them.” Gale asked.

“I cannot say that for sure. It could just be motivational. A bit like saying ‘rise up and walk’ and then just let them shuffle around, aimlessly. No direction, just setting them loose to put pressure on the humans.” Archer shrugged. “It is a hypothesis based on the scantest of information.”

“So.” Stormy’s logical side took over. “You are saying that it is not a virus?”

“In the way it appears as of now. The jury is still out. If you excuse the term.” The Archer winked. “It could be a sort of, I do not know, a sort of control that is passed on by senescence – death. You become dead, your systems are inert and are open to control. A frog’s leg, for example, can move even though the frog is dead or even if the leg is amputated. That could explain why those shufflers out there are not something to be reasoned with. There is no mind. Just a power control.”

“That kind of power is unknown, nothing I have ever heard of can do that.” Gale said. “And it is spread by contact with the zombies, not vampires. That makes no sense.”

“Yes, and true.” The Archer answered, nodding. “But it is all I have for now. Bigger brains than mine will need to think it over. One more reason to find a military center where they may have a fortress and are holding out against this. This started in Darwin, Sydney is the largest city, it should have a military base somewhere around the water.”

“Yes,” Jameson nodded. “There is a naval base on Garden Island there.

“Perfect. An island is easily protected!” Al said. “That’s our destination.”

The Archer nodded. “Agreed.”

“No, it is not what you are thinking. It’s an island, but has been connected to the mainland by bridges. Like your Manhattan island, for example.”

“Still.” The Archer said slowly. “It is a base, it will be defended, I hope, and a place we can dock a boat to without walking across land with those flesh-eaters hunting fresh meat.”

“Okay, then prepare to leave. Pack light. We leave at sunrise.” Al said.

Archer agreed.

Archer.” Zac said sleepily. “You were in the showers when we came back. I wanted to give this to you, but I was asleep before you were finished. The mum’s would not let me stay up.” Zac pointed at the women as he held up an exotic shape of limbs and string.

Where did you find that?” Archer’s eyes widened.

I found this in a shop, it was in a glass case. The Sergeant said you would like this.” Zac smiled.

Thank you,” Archer smiled as he ran his fingers over the four limbs of the bow. “You have any idea what you have here?”

A bow. It is unusual, I have never seen one like it.” Zac said, his eyes glittering with glee that the face of the redhead lit up with a rare smile. “I never saw one with forked arms before.”

This is a Penobscot style bow, it is custom made by White Wolf in the United States. Look at this here. It is called a Wind Warrior. And here? This is the number of the bow, the boyer’s name and the draw it has. This one goes up to seventy-pounds. I don’t think I have heard of one that went that high before, the name etched into it here “Midnight”. I don’t know if that is the color or the name of the bow.”

Name?” Zac asked.

A few shooters named their bows. I was one, but I’m considered a bit eclectic. My favorite bow was the Gertrude. But this one is my favorite now, she is beautiful.”

She?” Andrea laughed lightly.

Beauty, thy name is woman.” Archer said, looking again at the four-limbed bow as he held it up to the light. “The name of the bow is Midnight. Thank you, Zac, this is a wonderful gift.”

Oh! You could use your nickname with it and call it Midnight Thunder!” Zac was pleased with his thoughts on the subject.

Archer chuckled and looked down. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

“Now if someone can point out the direction to my clothes, I have gotten chafed wearing this prisoner’s jumpsuit. It rides up a bit.” The Yank said, changing the subject.

Quiet snickers could be heard as he disappeared with Stormy down the hallway towards the laundry room, pulling at the prisoner garb uncomfortably.

I keep getting a danged wedgie.”

#

8. Recognition

The Archer came back out after he pulled on his pants and socks. His shoulders were a testament to the skills he had with a bow as he carried a dark-gray polo shirt over his right shoulder.

He sat down by the armored glass and looked out, pulling on heavy black boots.

“Any changes outside?”

“None.” Al said as he surveyed with a pair of binoculars he had found. “It has been quiet, what can be seen, however, there is some movement six intersections distant heading away from the water, but I don’t have a view down towards the marina, it could be a Grateful Dead party down there for all I know.”

The redheaded Yank chuckled grimly and started to pull the polo shirt on over his head.

“Archer?” Stormy asked. “The tattoo you have on your chest? I recall seeing it before. I needed to think about it for a moment, but I remember you.”

“My tattoo?” He touched his chest. The Celtic heart with the black lightning bolt across it had been there so long, he had forgotten about it.

“You are T.H. Harte. The U.S. Olympic Archer that took the team to the finals, they said your form was all wrong, but it kept working for you. I helped sponsor you. My firm bought you equipment and some bows. Three of them if I remember.”

“He is… you are Thunder Harte?” Al blinked, looking from Stormy to the Archer. “He wrote a few books and is the host of the outdoor channel’s show “Against all odds”. Wow!”

Archer looked down and gave a heavy sigh. The sound of a man haunted by ghosts and tortured by a shattered soul.

“Yes, yes, and yes, I was Thunder Harte. But I cannot use that name anymore. I’m no longer that man.”

“You have a family. Your son is supposed to be one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic Archery team.” Rachel said. “There was a legal challenge about minors in the sport.”

“Yes, I opposed him being pushed to be an archer on the team by the media. Their attitude was beyond the pale and I filed the suit for an invasion of privacy. It was his choice and his choice alone.”

“You keep talking about him in the past tense.” Al pointed out, his three-decades of police skills coming to the fore.

“Yeah,” Archer said softly, as if he did and did not want to talk about it. It was a wound that still made his soul bleed and began to pour out of him as if he could not stop his words. “We were overrun by those shuffling nightmares. So, my wife and son took shelter in a quiet, dark house and I drew off the mob by using fire bombs and a shotgun. There was a minor problem, and then my son came out to help, the courage of a pre-teen. ” Archer sighed. “They caught him and began to drag him off. My wife ran out with a stick to beat them away and they grabbed her too.”

He choked and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the edge of the desk, the veins stood out in his forearms and neck. A man about to scream in agony.

I was a half-block away, semi-auto shotgun was stovepipe-jammed and I had the bow and four jars of turpentine.” The deep sound of a heart breaking sob came out of the one they called Archer. “It took too long to clear the jam, the shotgun wouldn’t cycle so I could clear a path. Then I finally cleared the jam and needed to eject another shell before I could jump back in the fight. But I was too late.”

He took another deep sigh as he pulled himself together.

“I shot them both.” He said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was the best I could do. They were both bloodied already and I believed it was a virus at the time.”

“You didn’t know about the vampires.” Rachel said, showing her less stormy side.

“No. I could have saved them.” Archer drew a breath and looked out the window. “I failed them. I killed my family and there is no deeper Hell than what I’m in. I couldn’t even bury them.”

“I’m no longer a Harte.” He said in a strangled voice, anguish showed his face as he covered his eyes as if to blind himself to a vision remembered. “I have no name. Just… Archer. It is well enough of a name.”

You will need to forgive yourself, you will need time to find your way.” Gail said, putting a hand gently on his shoulder. “You need to put this behind you, the world has nearly come to an end.”

Forgive?” Archer shook his head. “No. I should live with this forever. There is no forgiveness for what I did.”

From his quiver, he pulled a plastic baggy that contained locks of hair.

“I cut some hair from their heads after I drove the zombies back. The blond is his and this, ” He reached in the bag and touched a lock of red hair. “Is from my wife.

Compared to my hair, she is more of an orange color, but she was a warrior from the north of Glasgow. By the time I got to her, they had bitten and severely tore her up, but she had given better than she taken. There were bodies with their heads stove in all around her.” Archer stroked both locks of hair as if there was some magic in them. Magic that he could not unlock, but refused to let go.

He rolled the plastic baggy up and put it back into a pocket in his quiver and closed the flap.

“Let’s hunt up something with working radios that won’t draw a crowd.” Gail said softly, taking her hand from Archer’s shoulder and stroking his hair. “Down by the marina, we can put to sea, zombies are not able to sneak up or mob us. I would bet the long dead ones would sink anyway.”

“Let’s pack up.” Archer said. Anything to draw attention away from him.

They were ready in moments and formed up under the watchful eye of Al.

The group headed out in the practiced cover pattern that Sergeant Frobisher had taught them to do.

#

9. Out On The Docks

For the first block where birds sang, streets were eerily empty of the walking horrors as they headed to the marina. The death of the vampire seemed to have a chilling effect on the animated dead. Decaying and partly mummified bodies lay everywhere. The presence of ravens feeding on the dead was oddly reassuring to the group. Where the dead walked, birds were absent and silent. Everyone considered the ravens to be a good sign.

The closer they approached the marina, the air seemed to change. Like a heaviness in the atmosphere they had not noticed before, it suffocated the mood of the armed human centipede. They had started their walk to the marina in the best spirits they had been in days, but the farther they walked, the more melancholy the group became. It was as if the soul of the land they walked on was dying.

Moments later, another group of tattered, half-rotted bodies appeared from around the corner of a cross-street and began to approach the heavily armed group.

I thought we killed the vampire.” Zac said in a frightened whisper.

There must be more than one.” Al answered quietly as he walked backwards, protecting the rear of the group as he scanned back and forth with his vertical limbed crossbow. “There ain’t any of those shufflers following us.”

A range? Like with a cell phone?” Archer asked.

By deduction there is more than one kind of vampire.” Stormy said, keeping her sound suppressed weapon against her shoulder. “Some more powerful than others. Foot-soldiers, like Renfield in the classic horror novel. You might have some vampires that would be the generals, they would… maybe… channel the power to the lower caste. Then the zombies are the shock troops that are unstoppable.”

Stormy?” Archer asked.

Yes, love?”

You are giving me a panic attack, please talk about something else, something nicer, like how lions eat baby zebra.”

You killed one vampire already.” Stormy nudged Archer with her hip.

You weren’t down there with the Yank and me.” Andrea said. “That was a serious piss-fight brewing.”

They began to use the arrows to take down the mob of horror that was approaching as they headed to the marina in a controlled pace. Sound suppressed, special weapons did their jobs brilliantly, but the tinkling of spent brass on the ground rang loudly in the silent area that no bird song could reach their ears or any winged life flew. Even the insects had abdicated flight in the area.

As they approached the marina, Archer pointed out a large ketch with sails rolled up on the booms, well tied up. It would be easy to prepare the boat for departure.

Al jimmied a lock of a barred gate that stood as a silent sentinel across the dock. It opened with a loud shriek of partly rusted hinges and closed with the sound of a steel drum full of marbles.

Looking back over the way they had come, several of the animated dead had heard and were drifting in towards the marina as if they were not sure where the sound came from, wandering aimlessly with ever more gathering in the street between the buildings.

Okay, it’s safe.” Gail said. “They are not coming at us directly. We need to walk carefully on the dock to keep the noise down, or we will bring all of Brissy down on us.”

Walking down the dock to the sail-yacht, a large man with a side-by-side shotgun stepped out into the open deck of a tour-boat.

“Hey!” He yelled.

Archer and Al stopped and drew their bows. Andrea, Zac and Stormy pointed their own weapons at the armed man, Zac’s shotgun now loaded with sharpened dowels.

“Ahoy.” Called Archer. “We are seeking safety only. We are not looting. Just need to listen to a radio and find a way to travel south.”

“You are under quarantine. Don’t c’me closer, you are no going to pass on dat virus to me.” He shouted.

“We are alive and breathing, when was the last time you saw one aim weapons at you and hold a conversation?”

The skipper paused.

Archer took advantage of the pause and spoke again.

“There is no virus. All this? It’s vampires— They are using the zombies as war dogs.”

“Bah! There are no such things as vampires!”

“There are no such things as the dead zombies that walk, either! But there they are!” Archer pointed at the bodies that ambled up and down the street. Still milling about trying to find the source of the sound that the gate had made.

The skipper swore under his breath.

“C’me ab’ard befer any of doze still walkin’ sees ya. Git below.” He lowered his shotgun. “I didn’ wanna to shoot an’way. I’m down to whut gravel, nails and bolt-heads I c’n scrape up off teh ground. I has lots o’ powder, but nothin’ fer shootin’, I has ta make do with scraps. Bloody awful whut it is.”

The group sat down around the inside of the cruiser. It was medium sized, but well appointed.

“I chartered until two months ago. The damned demon-things put an end ta dat overnight. I usually walk ta town ta live, but dis is my home now. Dis is de Maribeth an’ welcome ab’ard. She don’ run, though. The engine is farked fer awhile, I ordered a new fuel pump and have been waited fer it fer six weeks before dis all started. I don’ think I’ll be gettin’ it in now.”

“What if you took parts from the other boats around.” Andrea asked.

“I dun’ thin’ the other owners would appreciate it, besides, tha’s stealin and what good would I be if’n I were in jail? They’d bust me for sure an’ take me boat.” The skipper nodded. “By da way, me name’s Roberts. Abraham John Roberts. I’m cap’n of this vessel, whut’s left of ‘er an’way.”

“There are no police to arrest you. And the owners of the boats around here are gone. You are not stealing. You’re salvaging.” Archer said slowly.

Captain Roberts looked at Al, then Archer, then to the ladies for a moment.

“Whut are we waiting fer.” He chuckled. “Damn, I is getting old, I could ha’ been salvagin’ all dis time!”

“We would like to listen to the radio, too. Everywhere on the land most power is out and no radio is working on land.” Rachel said.

“Aye, we can do dat. Marine radio and I has a world short-wave radio set built in. Digital radio is available, too.” The Captain said. “I ha’ no listened to it much. I worry that de sound would bring them, so’s I just walk in ta town ta de stores, avoidin’ them ta hunt up food.”

The women turned it on low and sat drinking the Captain’s coffee. Andrea offering “a cuppa” every few minutes. Captain Roberts told stories of how the world changed from the south up north to the marina. How the changes came from tourists to the biters that came later.

“We get the parts in the morning. This will be hell of a better watch than being here alone.”

“Then we put into Sydney or some other town with an enclave or sanctuary?” Al asked.

“Aye, we can.” Captain Roberts answered. “But fer ta-night? We DRINK!”

“Here here!” Andrea laughed.

Archer, atypically quiet, just sat at the top of the steps. Dusk was more than two hours away.

“Once it’s gone dark, w’ pull all da tarps over de glass and git below. I keep lights ta minimum. I ha’ LED lights that adjust low.” Captain said. Then coughed. “We needs fuel, too, for such a trip. We will need to take on at least three-thousand liters of fuel or we run a chance o’ rowin’ b’fore we get ta where we wants ta be.”

“Hey, what if we just take a boat?” Al asked. “There is a whole fleet of vessels out there that have no one to claim them.”

The Captain stopped talking for a moment.

“Well, I don’ know de other boats as well, but it’ll sure’n satisfy a few cravin’s. We kin upgrade. I never thought about takin’ another boat. Hum…”

Unpacking the maps from the Maribella, the group now including the Captain walked down the moorings assessing each yacht. Finally settling on the Calliope. A luxurious world-class sixty-meter yacht that showed full on all six tanks. Checking the staterooms confirmed the crew was alone on the yacht.

The Calliope, secured and they moved slowly to the unplug the yacht’s power cables from the end of the marina.

“The radio is broadcasting that the area north of Sydney is under quarantine, they are blocking all roads.” Rachel said as the Captain had started the engines warmed them up.

“Here comes the farewell party.” the Sergeant shouted. Shuffling dead were attracted to the sounds of the vessel powering up.

“Dey’ll hold up at de gate.” The Captain said.

“Yeah… no. They have pulled the gate down already.” The Archer said, the sounds of rending metal attracting more walking horror. “Captain, we need to leave.”

The redheaded Yank looked back out the window at the failed gate. “As in now.”

“As in… We has ta get de fark outta here,” Captain Roberts said.

“Agreed,” The Al said. “Forget leaving on the turn of the tide. Let us just cast off now.”

Bloody hell! If yer’n not cast off now, just cut lines. Theys not organized, theys keep fallin’ off into the water, but I won’ ‘ave any o’ ya out dere as bait.”

Casting off, the sixty-meter yacht pulled away from the dock slowly. The motion was not missed by others on the edge of town. The dead, under control of their masters began to walk down towards the marina stopping only at the edge of water.

“Set a course,” The Captain ordered. “Use dat GPS dere, and indicate Sydney.”

Archer gave a rare smile to Stormy, putting down an arrow from his bow, Midnight.

You were going to make a stand?” Stormy frowned.

Stand? Hell no. I was going to shoot that transformer on the pole over there and drop the power line into the water. I’m sure we would be safe, but anything standing in the wet areas would have an exciting moment or three.” Archer winked.

Wi’ one o’ da li’l sticks?” The Captain asked. “F’k’n’ Bullshit.”

Captain.” Al said. “With all due respect, that man could do it. I have seen him do things a hundred paces away with those “li’l sticks” that should be impossible.”

The Captain shook his head land laughed.

Den I’s glad ta has yer on my side, Yank.”

#

10. Ocean and Freedom

The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.

Captain Roberts sat back and sighed.

“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”

Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.

Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.

“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”

The Archer laughed.

“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have been drinking that brand for years.

Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”

The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.

“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.

“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”

“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction return the way you came.”

“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”

“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine has been extended to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”

“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”

“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.

“Heave to, or we will fire.”

“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”

In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.

Captain Roberts looked out.

“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”

“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.

“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.

Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.

“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”

OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.

“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.

It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopters their weapons repeatedly.

Only after the Calliope’s shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water the gunships returned to base on shore.

The haze and smoke slowly dissipated as the killing machine moved off, returning to the carrier.

There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders and turned away back to its patrol.

#

Epilogue


Radio transmission on shore after the military radar had detected the contact:

Captain Michael Monroe made his report to the base. “Contact made. Illegal threat neutralized. No spread of infection or contamination. End of report.”

Rear Admiral Shyldon Gillette, Commander of the Royal Australian Border Protection Command read the electronic report out loud and turned towards a shadow in the corner with red eyes glimmering in the dark.

“The secret remains safe, my Lord, the operation will be able to continue to relocate the human blood sources into the feeding reservations.”

“Excellent. Keep the fear up. Any human that finds clues to the real source of the undead slaves, kill them. The living cannot know what is happening until the whole of the world is under our control.” The lips of Lord Maldark’s ghostly face barely moved to create a voice that sounded like it came from the depths of a muddy tomb. “Tell the lower caste to increase the numbers of the risen and to drive herds of the food towards the reservations, do not give them a chance to contemplate their position in the food-chain. That is key to our success.”

Yes, my Lord.”

The face that appeared to float in the shadow twisted unnaturally into a grin, long fangs glittered like glass in the subdued light, but the admiral was under the ancient one’s control now and was no longer afraid as he was the first night.

That night, over a month ago.

Out on the water near the sunken Calliope, a plastic sandwich bag floated on the water stuffed with two gently cut locks and five hastily pulled blood-red strands of hair sealed inside.

Together the hairs drifted towards the land of Oz in the prevailing current with wreckage from the destroyed yacht.

A bow floated on the wreckage, an unusual penobscot bow made of exotic woods. The bow lay on a raft of floatation devices, hastily lashed together, clear of the water with a quiver of arrows as the land grew closer with each passing moment.

<Finis?>

2 Seconds… T-Minus 2 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 2 Seconds

Passing through the atmosphere, photons interacted with the oxygen and nitrogen, but still straight on to the stalled dark blue car of LucilleMay Sprecks who was frozen in fear.

Photons struck the paint and chrome of Lucy’s car. Instantly redirected by reflection, the photons passed through the air at ninety-thousand kilometers per second slower than in a pure vacuüm. Some colors absorbed by the paint and then reflected the remaining color of dark blue.

Engine 2315 self-dispatched, rolled down the driveway, already the crew had dropped paintbrushes and rakes, running towards the engine. The seasonal firefighters did not know the nature of the call, but the Captain was waving frantically. The Engineer already on the radio. The two men, from years of experience, knew of the impending accident was just seconds from happening and called for a dispatch of a paramedic unit.

“Copy, medics Code-3 to your location.” Dispatch responded.

The photons traveled the distance between the sudden obstruction and passed through the iris of Russell’s eye in twenty-five nanoseconds — 0.000000025 — striking the light-sensitive membrane in the back of Russell’s eyes. Neural pathways reacted to the absorbed photons and processed it to his occipital lobe, in the back of Russell’s head.

T-1.9999955 seconds. Photons streaked past Russell’s head and entered the lens of Lulu’s eyes. The nervous system transmitted the image at two-hundred miles-per-hour to the brain of Mrs. Fletcher.

Russell’s brain transmitted the image to the frontal cortex. One-point-six seconds it took to have the one-hundred billion axioms to recognize the threat, the mind of the skilled rider tried to organize a reflex action.

T-1.99925 seconds. Fifty-miles per hour they traveled towards the immobile car. More than seventy-three feet per second — Already they had covered more than a third of a football field.

T- 1.5 Seconds. Lucy saw the collision coming, her eyes processing the closing motorcycle and her mind locked up. All she needed to do to avoid the impending collision was move her foot to the gas-pedal. But in that moment, she did not know what to do. There were no answers for the panicked soul that only wanted a glass of wine and to save the soul of a lady Druid.

Russell’s brain processed information at the speed of three supercomputers.The most intelligent man on earth was not needed to know that the exit routes were:

Oncoming traffic in front of the stopped car — rejected as death was all but certain.

Forest with big trees, bushes and large pointy rocks: – rejected. The outcome would be equally bad.

Hit car — poor choice, but the debate was moot with the outcome defaulted while the mind of the man searched for safe exit to this disaster. He was out of time for evasive maneuvers.

T- 1.25 seconds. BRAKES! The mind screamed! Russell took a deep breath.

T- 1.20 seconds. BRAKES! The mind begged. The entire world was silent, his soul was deaf to all sounds. All the world was mute.

T- 1.1 seconds. BRAKES! The mind commanded. No bumps, no sound of wind. Silence was louder than a rock-concert in a steel warehouse.

T- 0.9 seconds. BRAKES! The mind ordered. The engine was inaudible.

T- 0.8 seconds. A pleading voice sounded through the earbud of the motorcycles comm system.

“NOoooooo!” It was Lulu.

T- 0.5 seconds. BRAKES! The foot finally responded and jammed down on the rear brake and the hands grabbed for the front brake lever.

T- 0.4 seconds. The brake pads built up pressure. Years of riding, he closed his hand into a fist and crushed the front brake lever.

T- 0.15 seconds. The friction pads moved into contact with the rotating mass of the brake disc and began to engage at fifty-one feet away.

In an instant, Russell did calculations in his head, estimating he needed an extra twenty feet to fully perform an emergency stop.

Twenty feet he did not have.

T- 0.10 seconds. Russell tensed up. Impact was imminent. Pressure in rear brake built up enough to stop rotation of the rear tire. Seventy-percent of the weight of the motorcycle shifted to the front tire.

The shock absorbers on the motorcycle compressed as the big bike did a nosedive. On two tires, patches of rubber the size of a hand of a large man tried to stop a half-ton of steel, rubber and human flesh and bone.

The rear tire of the motorcycle began to skid, the tire locked up and melting from friction with the highway, liquid rubber now lubricating the tire which began to yaw to the right, the front tire slowing faster than the rear. Lulu, sat farthest away from the center mass of the motorcycle and adding more weight to the pendulum. Out of control with the dynamic forces Russell valiantly struggled to stop the inevitable.

Unstoppable, moving towards the immobile car, “Crossed up” as Gertrude the motorcycle yawed and slid sideways, they moved with Lulu making prayers, begging that it would be all right.

“Please don’t let it be bad, Lord, please let it be all right.”

It would not be all right.

T- 0.05 seconds. Russell could see over the top of the car, his mind processed information at a phenomenal rate, he could see the road was clear on the far side of the obstruction.

If only… Was his sole thought.

He could see the eyes of the little old lady, they were wide like a deer in the headlights, with plate-sized pupils.

T- 0.02 seconds. Photons made shadows on the ground. Shadows that merged as the front tire was bound down as tightly as it could be without locking up as the rear brake did. Speed was dropping rapidly, if it was on a graph, it would show the line of the deceleration as nearly vertical on a second by second chart.

T- 0.01 seconds. Russell could calculate his speed was still greater than…

T- 0.00 seconds. Impact! The photons that made shadows, now only made one as the front tire hit slightly ahead of the rest of the hog.

The force of the energy ripped the big bike’s grips from Russell’s hands. The husband’s body became a missile of kinetic energy launched by the impact of the vehicles.

Russell hit, bounced and flew over the top of the car, breaking the windshield with his helmeted head as he went by and landed partly on his face. The open-faced helmet affording him little protection, sliding and rolling down the asphalt. Russell came to a rest on his back. His face hurt, but he was awake.

T+ 0.50 seconds. Russell laid there, taking stock of his limbs. Pain was not overpowering but there was no question he was hurt. Movement at the periphery of his eyes made him turn his head.

The car was on the move. The little old lady was leaving! He could see her tail lights getting smaller as he tried to read the license plate from his awkward position.

Then, he saw his best friend’s body.

She was alarmingly still. Still as death.

T+ 1.5 seconds.

“Lulu…” He whispered a plea. “Lulu, move.”

She lay on the ground, partly under the motorcycle. Unmoving, silent. She lay there with her leg bent in way that was unnatural. He tried to crawl on his arms, leaving a bloody trail back to where his wife, his copilot and his best friend and lover, lay. Russell’s vision became blurred with agony as the pain set in. Blood dripped off his face where the road abraded his skin away with the rough black top.

T+ 5.0 seconds. Pounding of feet and a heavy “Thump-thump” of a huge motor pulling up next to him. An enormous chopper with an even larger rider looking down at him through goggles. A tattoo of the 82nd Airborne division on his forearm oddly was in focus to Russell’s eyes.

“We caught her, brother. We caught that old lady before she got very far. Hang in there, help is on the way.”

“Lulu?” Russel moaned. “My wife?”

“Your old lady’s alive, bro. Hurt bad, but alive.”

“Call 9-1-1.”

“Station is right there, they are coming now.” The giant biker told Russell with a slight Norwegian accent. “They’ll be here in two seconds.”

Two seconds, if only he had seen the car two seconds sooner.

FINIS

2 Seconds… T-Minus 2,775,168,000 Seconds

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T-Minus 2,775,168,000 Seconds

 

LucilleMay Adler born to George and Ethel grew up in Chicago on the poorest side of town. George was a warehouseman and had never had much time for his family. A heavy drinker by the time that Lucy was in her mid-teens. He died when he drove into a tree on his way home. Ejected from the overturning car, the intoxicated father struck his head on the hard ground and never woke from his injuries.

Lucy and her mother moved to California on suggestion of her aunt Lewellyn where she became involved with a young man who went to school. He impressed Lucy with his clear blue eyes and aspirations. The young man often would take Lucy on rides in the country as they sat with picnics under his favorite trees along the Marin headlands.

Trying his hand at farming, Joshua Sprecks was a failure. Buying the land around the hills in the southern bay area, they fought and struggled for years until a builder spoke with them about selling land so a home could be built.

Pausing to think, Joshua refused the offer. Instead, he spoke with an employee who helped him and in turn they looked into building a few houses which sold quickly.

In the years that followed, Joshua found he had talents in the business of home and subdivision design. With a good relationship with the local inspectors, Joshua Sprecks made his life comfortable for his growing family. His plans for schools that the children would attend were set as father blazed the trail by going back to school himself, becoming an architect of some renown in the area.

Shortly after the first of Lucy’s four children were born. Lucy developed an addiction to Valium, a common problem in the early years of the drug. Most of the women in her church were very much addicted to the Valium family of medications, and an active trade developed within the group as the hoarders would sell among the women that needed it at the moment.

One springtime afternoon, everyone had arrived at home from school and after finishing chores. The day was warm and beautiful and a wonderful time for the young. Joshua Junior promised he would be careful, Lucy’s smiled and allowed her eldest son to take the family car and drive his younger brother and two sisters to the store for sodas. Joshua Junior was always very careful at the wheel of the car, Lucy was always careful to teach him of his responsibilities. Teachings that he took to heart, always.

Alas the drunk driver that collided with them had no such guidance.

The light in Lucy’s eyes dimmed as she never quite recovered burying four of her five children. The only survivor of the accident that took the lives of all the children was the youngest who had to stay home to do homework.

Josh Sr. took the next offer of his three-hundred acre ranch and bought land in the Lake Tahoe area away from the metropolitan growing around their orchards. Houses built haphazardly without the plans that Joshua tried to include with his developments, and the effect was, to him, untenable.  

It was not fair to Joshua Sprecks, who had no wish to stay in the area where his children died at the hands of a man who paid only a month’s worth of salary in fines.

And the patriarch of his surviving family could not suffer living in the shadow of the four headstones that marked the graves of his children, moved to the mountains, never to return willingly to the lands of his shattered dreams.

Cellular Justice Chapter 2. Office of the Vice-Chief

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Chapter 2. Office of the Vice-Chief

‟Robert, have a seat. There is a serious problem for you to come to my office unannounced.”

Janis Pillsbury Vice-Chief of the police department was always pleased with Robert’s company. He had a knack to make people feel smarter with his way of teaching and leadership.

When they met in college, she was a member for the Olympic swim-team twenty years earlier. It had frustrated her when she got bumped from the team because of a shoulder injury earned while arm-wrestling the future doctor at a bar during finals week.

Robert sat in the leather-cushioned chair in front of her and put files on her desk.

‟These are files on two-dozen separate events in the last six weeks. Some are gang affiliate, some are not. There is no connection other than apparent death caused by an explosive device.” Robert looked grim. ‟The pattern suggests that there is a theft ring going on, but we are finding material that we cannot explain, explosive residue that we have not seen before. Blast damage that seems limited to one person, except in three cases of multiple victims, the explosions seem focused on individuals we suspect were involved with a crime, solely on the tattoos and history of the known victims.”

‟Hm. A theft ring being purged?”

‟I don’t know, data supports a street battle, except for the lack of drive-by shootings. There are explosives being used, so a case could be made for domestic terrorism other than it’s not involving the normal targets. The victims in this case have known histories of felonies, in large part. A few unknown subjects, but with tattoos that suggests affiliations.”

‟Have you a hypothesis on these events? What is the explosive used?”

‟That is the biggest issue. We cannot identify the explosives used. We have some nitrogen based, certainly, but there are other traces we cannot account for.” Robert flipped through a file and handed it to her. ‟This shows an optically clear glass that is slightly porous on a microscopic scale, we did a mass-spec on it and something on the sample detonated while being prepared.”

‟WHAT? Did’t you check for an explosive residue?”

‟We did. Standard procedure and none of our equipment detected any oxidizer or explosives. No hydrocarbons of any concern, there was a light oil, but it checked out as a light silicone oil. Not explosive. However we did find copper and silver acetelydes in minute trace amounts.”

‟A contact explosive.”

‟Well, shock and temperature sensitive, but the odd part about what we found is in the traces that were not consumed, they had insulating jackets of ethylene.”

‟Like wires?”

‟Not… Not like we would think of them, silver acetelyde is so shock sensitive that it has no serious use. Copper, is less sensitive but a hell of a detonator. The question we do not have an answer for is what was it detonating? We have a high-nitrated carbon plastic which is not an explosive in its own right, but I believe it’s a kicker, whatever the primary warhead is, the case shapes and boosts the force of the explosion.”

‟Okay, what do we know past that.”

‟This much. These are specific in the way they explode as evidenced by the destruction of body tissues. You could be standing next to the person when it detonates, you would be uninjured and the victim is beyond help of even the most advanced trauma surgical team.” Robert took a deep breath. ‟The bombs are personal and specific.”

‟Someone is targeting the victims.”

‟Yes, specific victims. It is not a suicide bomb that goes for mass killing.”

‟What about these two reports that have multiple victims.”

‟Each victim had a device in their possession. The glass windows in the room broke, but not blown out. My team has surveyed the glass to try to determine if the windows were previously cracked or if the blast did it. In any case, it was a hundred percent kill only within the confines of the room. Trace evidence is outside of our databases.”

‟What about the traces you just said with the copper and silver?”

‟Not enough to inflict the injuries we are seeing. But there is a delivery system that we are not finding, it is possible that the case that the explosive is consumed in the explosion by design.”

‟As in,  where did I hear this before, a paper-cased bomb?”

‟Close, that’s in a novel and a movie. But that is where that exists only.”

‟Oh.”

‟This is different, there is trace, we are not recognizing it yet.”

‟Well, get on it. Do you have any more information?”

‟No. But the pattern is this: Young, generally male with known felony and misdemeanor convictions, high incidence of drugs in their systems. High mortality rate, one-hundred percent, no fires, collateral damage or bystanders injured.”

‟Who is doing this?” Janis looked carefully at the files, one at a time.”I see no connections.”

‟Other than being killed in explosions that would be no louder than a car backfire, no connections between events we can find. We have no one to put a finger on, other than to say person or persons. We just don’t know where the evidence points.” Robert said evenly. ‟Yet.”

‟Okay, Robert, I will take this to the Chief and we will brief department heads. You get top priority on any information coming in on our task forces on organized crime will have a meeting. How is this afternoon look for you?”

‟I will clear my schedule. Janis, to be clear, I want to say this clearly. You have vigilantes out there and they are trying to put you out of business.”

‟We have hunters, eh?”

‟More like poachers.”

Robert stood up and smiled in a grim way that Janis knew that he was unhappy with the ambiguous evidence. Watching the door close behind him as she held the files in her hand, the word echoed in her mind.

‟Poachers.”

The Overconfidence Effect

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The Confidence of Committee

Remember, they were confident the Titanic was unsinkable.

‟The virus is simply that: A virus. We know it is not airborne and can live outside the body for some time. This virus hazard time is in days, before it becomes inactive. But it is not airborne or dust-borne. We can handle this.”

Doctor Azrae Calnau, head of the Biosafety labs in the government. A dark agency within the CDC, not only charged with finding treatments, preventions and cures of a particular pathogen, but to find a way to treat such illnesses for soldiers. Whether enemy or ally, Dr. Calnau cared not. It was information that the ,government would choose to share.

But he was confident that the reports of this new pathogen that was moving through the communities of the poor, but highly populated planets were accurate. The crushing poverty since the collapse of the economy of the Gliese had come suddenly and left those that were heavily invested in the worlds with no funds to leave for new lives.

The result of crowding of families with poor ventilation and non-existent medical care.

****

The planet Sapphire, once the most violent planet in the outer systems enjoyed a resurgence in prosperity and peace. The government’s need to find an effective vaccinations against such a lethal illness quickly before it spread to Sapphire was a serious and growing threat .

Laymen called it red-sweat. Infected victims began to perspire heavily, the sweat turning crimson as the red blood cells broke down and hemoglobin leaked from the smallest of blood vessels— the capillaries— and flowed out of the sweat glands. The sheets of the bed turned red, while the patient turned the color of a sheet. Death followed quickly with organ failure on a catastrophic level.

After the patient began to perspire, even clear sweat, contaminated everything by contact or touch. Clammy hands typing spread the disease from a keyboard or mouse being touched by someone else,  from touch screen menus at restaurants to the handles on doors of transport systems to call buttons on elevators.

Even the air could be contaminated with aerosols of an innocuous sneeze or cough. Even the filters of the ventilation systems of Gliese were inadequate for the task since the failure of the economy.

Teams of scientists volunteered, fully aware of Gliese’s limitations with sanitation and ventilation filter systems that dated back hundreds of years.

They were talking of two MD’s. Now infected, the illness was far more virulent than they ever expected.

A meeting, the best minds of the commitee of infection control.

‟We have the technology, we know how to control this. We can bring the two doctors here, under our controls in a class 3-I underground facility. There is no exposure to our open atmosphere, they would live or die on their home soil.” Paige Brach MD, Ph.D, D.Sc., president of the southern hemisphere research station. Located in a desert, the one area of the water planet where the perpetual high pressure system remained stationary in the last four-centuries. The desiccated land where the facility sat was billiard-table flat and no measurable water content in the soil until they drilled through bedrock more than a thousand meters deep, it was the only source of water for the facility.

‟We can treat them here.”

Raffe T’mbua, MD, Ph.D spoke up.

‟And if either one of them does not live? The bodies remain a vector, even if you mummify them. Do you have a plan?” He spoke softly.

‟We have two proposals, one is absolutely safe for the planet, even if the family may object.” Doctor Brach said.

‟Care to elaborate?”

‟Incineration, on the lab floor of three-eye, the ‟I” stands for incinerate. The body would be cremated in a fire so hot that the remaining ash would be melted into a glass.”

‟You would do this to the body of one of our own?”

‟It is an option, it would be sterile, to say the least. The plasma torch used, reaches temperatures in excess of twenty-thousand Celsius at its center to reduce the body to ash and then to a glass slag approximately five to ten-percent of the original mass, perhaps less.”

‟That’s…” Tsing Mao-Smith shook her head. ‟Wrong. That is no way to treat a human body. What is the other option?”

‟High-energy ionizing radiation, we would irradiate the body for a period of time to sterilize it.” Paige described the procedure. ‟We are fairly certain that this would prevent spread of the virus to the population at large.”

Fletcher Steel Ph.D. coughed and spoke up. Professor emeritus at the Northern University of the biological studies and research school.

‟That is not a zero-percent chance. It is impossible to irradiate and say with absolute conviction that nothing will live.”

‟No, the math is not absolutely zero. There is always a small chance.”

‟Even if the chance is vanishingly small, I am not willing to introduce a virulent life form into this planet that is already an artificial biosphere, we have not addressed everything yet. Our oxygen event is still happening. The planetary systems are showing signs of cooling down, this in turn will tend to cluster our people closely— a prime setting for a plague to wipe us out.” Professor Steel said softly. ‟We would not have time to develop a defense to fight back.”

‟So you support incineration?” Doctor Mao-Smith said, incredibly. ‟Fletch, I would have never thought you would support that.”

‟I’m not, I oppose either of these people brought back to our planet. One mistake, one leak, a single aerosolized droplet on a worker that goes home, it will spread in this world like wildfire.” The Professor said. ‟It is safer to send our equipment there.”

‟And expose more of our people to the illness?” Paige shook her head. ‟How do you justify that? We have the technology here, ready. There is nothing we cannot handle.”

‟They stay underground until they are clear of the viral bodies.” Tsing said. ‟We will not use any of the equipment again. Everything is incinerated in the plasma furnace, gurneys, bedding. Anything that has direct contact with the patient.”

‟That would be a challenge, Doctor Mao-Smith.” Paige said formally. ‟We can irradiate with UV-c and gas with Cyto-tox. And non of the equipment would ever be brought to the surface.”

‟You are confident in your assessment of containment, then.” Mariko Wong, Ph.D looked directly at Paige.

‟Yes, there is nothing that can go wrong. We have quadruple redundancies.” Paige smiled softly. ‟Nothing can go wrong.”

Quietly watching the circle of highly educated minds grapple with the issue, Doctor Calnau tapped on his PDA, spoke to Paige.

‟Explain this to me as if I were a child, I have confidence in you— but convince me anyway.”

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 19. A Nightmare Of A Possibility

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19. A Nightmare Of A Possibility

Twitching, the world took on a surreal color pallet.

She slept with her arm over his shoulders, cuddled up to his back like two spoons in the flatware box. This world faded away and another one slid forward on soft cat-paws in his mind.

A nightmare invaded Kane’s slumber. A violent dream.

He was angry. He was fighting and he was fury incarnate, down to his core, he was… He was…

He was Orcus the avenging demon of wrongs. The angry imp that struck in an instant.

The black-soul that would invade a lover’s heart and turn the loving soul into a murderer in a moment for minor wrongs, bringing new slaves to the Dark Lord for his bidding.

And found – Not an angelic minion, a nameless adversary. It was… It… was… even in his dream, he stammered.

It was HER!

He defended his Angel.  It played vividly in his mind, he was again there when the Hoard attacked. For his heart focused only on one soul ever. A heart properly motivated would do anything. In defense of his deepest mote of love, that one spark never lost, did he do the unthinkable.

But the hesitation brought the unwanted attention of the Dark One who did not believe in such deep thoughts – Backing up his best, his most infernal, the one who brings the most of the new souls in for the Satan, Emperor of Hell to torment for his pleasure.

The Great Angel of the Pit arrived and struck her a crushing blow, pushing the smaller imp out of harms way, attacking the crimson haired angel delivering a huge slash across her arms and with that single blow of his clawed hand, he knew her name.

Bronwyn they called her. In that instant he knew it was her human name. Somewhere in time there was a candle lit for her. But that mattered not, this soul, that forestalled the killing stroke of the best of his warriors, one who commanded a legion. The Emperor’s best and brightest, the most savage, one of the most feared of all.

A blow stung him to the core as she struck back, a blessed sword of holy crystal! With a mighty roar of a thousand damned hearts, and struck at her with claw and fang, to tear out a new soul. Not one that would be returned to this little Angel’s lord. Her flesh would be ravaged, spirit would be torn and body broken as he pounced on her like a savage raptor of hate, of the dark side and he struck with a blow to shatter souls; it was the law of things in battle. The mighty overwhelm the weak.

But this angel did not read the rule book.

The bright, pure soul of the host, drove Hell’s Master backwards the flash of a moment as she struck him with the might of the host. Michael would not have struck as hard. Silver chain mail over her torso resisted the power of darkness, for this was for this was one of the great warrior archangels. Fitting her like a wet shirt, it guarded against  the savage horde. However, it was not on par with the supreme demon of the darkness.

The battle ensued, he was savage and she as a blinding light against his dark, claw to armor, fist to fang. The whole of the lands shook with the fury of battle. Master against Angel, there was no turning back, Bronwyn was fighting for her immortal soul and there was no mercy, no plea that would be heard. This was a battle to the end of it all, to the death of two immortal beings.

She struck with enough power and heart to knock him to his knees, enough power to break a demon. But not this Dark Lord, almighty in his satanic powers, he was beyond her dreams of power. He took his measure of her strength, weighed her power and compared it to his own. She who had gotten a few hits in, her light was as a small lamp in the pitch darkness of night. Bright as she was, she was found wanting, and he retaliated.

That little blessed knife of hers,  broken and thrown away, hummed feebly in the dirt.

And the Devil struck with the might of Hell – again and again the great dark fist of the Emperor shattered her body, her shield of faith. Her soul would taste like a sweet grape on his tongue after he tore it out of her and consumed it, never to return to the adversary of her Lord of Light. To hell with an angel.

Beaten, weaponless, on her knees, held by one wing he beat her again and again. She screamed one name.

“Orcus! HELP!”

Her screams echoed in the cold, dead heart. Somewhere in the dust of ages, among the dead and heavily scarred flesh that wound around the blackened and charred whole of his soul, a spark that was hidden was found and it heard – the spark flared, burned and ignited something within the emptiness that was the heart of a demon.

A rage that grew, fanned to flames by the winds of memory that rushed back, an awakening of a promise once made to a pure soul. The spark that remembered once promised to protect.

And failed.

But not this time.

Not again.

Never again.

Shall not. Ever again. Fail.

And a single word, born from the very core of fury.

“STOP!”

Corruption was who he was, a body covered in hideous scars of ages of combat, unholy visage of a beak-like face, horns for hair and red-rage that glowed in his eyes. Orcus, a name known only to Bronwynn, had in that one moment, that blistering rage that erupted and attempted control of in a futile effort, the Emperor of Hell saw and knew.

One brief shining moment of longing crossed the angry face of the warrior-demon. Of passion’s fire kindled in a heart that had long gone to cold ash. A history that was once forgotten, rose again in the demon once thought soulless, an ember of passion rose and the testimony of that one quiet hot mote arose to live again in the being that was Orcus. A soul, blasted and scarred with self-hatred and anger.

“You wish this female? Take her soul then. Use the battle-ax, the Claw of Hades and cut it from her.” The terrible eyes of the Emperor turned on the General of his legions. “Strike her sacred body, cut off her wings, cut out her soul and you will stay together for an eternity! You will command together. Whole legions of demons that would respect you both, you will the power second only to mine, you both will be in Hell forever.”

The dark countenance of the Dark Lord was that of savage pleasure, to have her struck down without her fighting back. A total defeat of an angel and the stealing of a soul as pure as this.

“Power and love of your mate for all time. Fear and respect from others, none shall dare not stand up to you.” The Dark Master spoke to the smaller demon.

On the battlefield the three stood, all demons had stopped their corrupt actions and watched the drama, would an angel switch sides for love? Would the great Gardener stand up and save one of his own. A warrior angel, the best and brightest, one that had once turned her back on heaven to live a life with a love. One where her heart once rejoiced so much that it echoed in heaven.

The Dark Lord held her by a copper-colored wing, this angel, one who had given her heart to Orcus so long ago with the blessing of her Enlightened One. The long scarred and hideous arm held her out as if to offer a meal to the demon for his abuse, for the cut to come. To take her into the darkness and drive out doubt in the host.

Once an old affable gardener with wisdom unmatched and told her to go to the Imp and love him good and well.

“Raise him up, love him all the days on that little spot that you claim your own.”

This moment she hung helpless in a giant’s clawed hand. On a finger an ebony ring of an apple surrounded by a snake on the hand, he squeezed and smoke billowed from her wing and Bronwynn screamed in pain. The battle between the light and dark over for the moment.

But there was no fight left in this angel. Her crystal sword broken and the angel’s battered and bruised body hung limply from combat against the one called Satan. She was out of energy. With not enough strength to fight, she hung in his mighty grip and cried. Holy chain-mail hung off her in tatters and shreds. Plates of armor, harder than diamonds, tougher than a heart of a warrior crushed like foil lay on the ground.

Defeated, no weapons left, too weary to lift her arms.  Bronwyn hung there, broken and beaten.

A flick of the wrist and she was flung across the battlefield at the feet of the demon of retribution, vengeance and pain.

“Cut her soul from the angels body and you will have her forever.” The Dark One spoke. “How deep is the love you have? What would you do for that passion that burns in your chest? Do you believe you have a love for this small one?”

“She pleases me.” Orcus looked at her.

The old rage was there, ruby-red eyes of a savage demon. But… something else and it did not go unnoticed.

“DO you love her?” The question was more of a statement by Hell’s Master.

“I…” A hesitation. How does one give up a weakness? Never a good idea to do so to anyone that has power over you… but… “Love her.”

“What sweetness.” Satan laughed. “Would you do anything for her love?”

“Yes.” Orcus was watching her, greed in his wholeness. Cultivated consciously, lust for power. Turning away from love. Lust for a mate. Not love. To use her for pleasure. NOT love.

“I love her.” Damn it all! Orcus thought. Not what he wanted to say.

“Sweet indeed. Love for an angel. Does the small demon wish her with him forever and ever?” The Emperor said softly. “I can give her to you.Just give her the stroke, take her soul and bring her to you. Live forever in each others company in the beauty of your world. Can you do that? Can you love her enough to bring her to you?”

Orcus nodded.

“I can do that. The soul of an angel, power untold. I can do that.” A grin from the lips that split with the evil of his own words.

Savage anger glowed from his eyes, the Claw of Hades, an old friend, a battle-ax whose blade had ten points for piercing of armor in his hands that caressed its polished surface as if it were a sexual device. The tip of the main blade pressed against the bare flesh of her chest, an unprotected gap of her rent and destroyed armor.

Bronwyn looked up into the eyes of the one she loved most in all the worlds, all the universes that existed, anywhere she ever lived, anyplace she had gazed upon — she had given him her heart.

The tip of the ax rested against the curve of her throat, where it joined her torso, she had nothing more to give this demon, the imp that held her heart. Trying to tell him, never did he fail her. For she loved him greater than all the souls that were in heaven.

An evil laugh as the Master knew what would come. “Would you do anything for love?”

“I would do anything for power! I would do anything for love.” Orcus cackled now.

Bronwyn gave him her best, most vulnerable spot, knowing the pain of the cut coming. Not fighting any longer, she arched her neck back, offering her soul, she gave up all that would be her history, her love, her passion.

She would give up her heaven.

Her lord and her soul.

For him.

And waited for the cut that would take her from the light and plunge her forever into the darkness of the pit of the abyss.

She then heard the last time he would speak to her in this world.

“I’ll do anything for love.” His breath was hot on her cheek.

His breath coming in deep ragged gasps of blood lust, she knew. The tip of the cursed battle-ax, a gift from Hades to Orcus in another long ago age, pressed against her throat dimpling the flesh.

“I would do anything for your love. ” He said again, softer. “I will have you as mine forever.”

She could feel the muscles of the battle-scarred body tense, the winding up of the moment, he was ready and the blow was moments away.

“I”ll do anything for love!”

A pause…

Bronwyn closed her eyes, waiting for the first sensation of pain that marked the end of her heavenly life as she gave herself to her love, her heart, and the one that brightened her soul even from the darkest of realms.

She closed herself off to the view of the one with the weapon that had her at his mercy. The him through time and realms that they had traveled. Through dimensions, ages, together they had once loved laughed and had light of the universe in their hearts.

“I’ll do anything for love…” He drew a deep breath through sharpened and savage teeth…

*I love you.* It was her last thought.

“… NO! I WON’T DO THAT!”

Turning in an instant, Orcus hurled the cursed ax, the Claw of Hades at Satan himself, launching into an attack against the Emperor of Hell, this demon of legend, the First Emperor of all things of evil intent, action and temptation.

A simple flick of the Lord of the Demon’s hand and the ax flew away over his shoulder, landing uselessly in the battlefield beyond the reach of the smaller demon.

“TRAITOR!”

“I knew you! Traitor! You shall live forever as a slave to serve us all! Torment by those being tormented, undying life of slime, never-ending pain is all yours forever. I shall enjoy consuming your angel, she is MINE.”

“NEVER! You will starve!” The Demon screamed.

Savage was Orcus’ attack, the crushing blows he delivered was with every mote of his being, all sound, all battles, all conflict stopped as the host of heaven and the hoards of hell halted their battles and watched this ballet of destruction played out.

Watching the fight that suddenly became center stage of a battlefield, Asmodeus turned to Lucifer. “One-hundred on Orcus.”

“You’re on.” Lucifer already had plans to tell the Emperor how the odds were. Who bet on the outcome.

“I’ll take some of that.” The Beelzebub stood near the arch-demons. “I’ll take the Master.”

“Roll your own dice Beeze?” Leviathan laughed, the giant put down his vote for Orcus. Calling him “The once and future Emperor”.

Savage orange fire from the mouth of the Emperor for the chest of Orcus as he folded his wings around for protection and laughed as the flames enveloped his body.

“Time to fall!” A scream from the beak-like face as the demon went claw to talon, fang to fire as Satan did battle with the best and darkest of his demons. Green fire from the clawed hands of the demon that shattered the confidence and wings of the Emperor. The tail of the once-Emperor, whipped through the darkened atmosphere of war, a weapon unto itself, the prehensile appendage wrapped itself around the throat of the Dark One.

“To slime, to torment, to slavery with you! For LOVE I shall strike. For her soul I shall beat you into the ground.” Orcus screamed as his tail tightened against the armor-scale of a neck as he looked into the compound beast-eyes. Sixty-six and six-hundred pupils that he saw his reflection framed by the horned face.

“For my angel’s heart, you will suffer!”

Satan’s quad-lipped mouth opened up and exposed too many teeth as the Emperor of Hell choked on a grip tighter than steel that squeezed ever tighter. The Devil’s mouth tried to bite the scale covered hide of traitorous demon.

Twisting about in the noose of a tail, the Dark Lord landed a blow that registered on earth as an earthquake. Scientists explained that a previously unknown fault shook the humans. The same blow nearly obliterated the demon, but Orcus fought back with the power of love. The demon was unstoppable as Satan was relentless. Again they collided head on, claw to claw, fang to tusk. Each blow measured to inflict the greatest damage, each block meant to waste the energy of the opponent.

Never had there been such a challenge to his power. Victory was not assured, for the fist time in an age – Satan, the Emperor of Hell, felt fear.

Fire and fury, hate versus love. A Dark-Heart against the power of darkness, the energy of both opponents took a toll as they gave their all for victory.

One loved power, the other loved.

Suddenly a misstep, a missed moment in a battle against an implacable enemy and Orcus was flung backwards by a titanic blow, one wing broken, the other wing torn, horns broken, eyes unfocused. The right arm lay useless under his body.

Tired and out of breath, the Emperor of hell moved towards the demon that dared to choose love over immeasurable power, lust and greed. This Satan, wheezing and blinded in half his eyes, all the fingers on the right hand missing and the Emperor of Hell walked on his hands, swinging his leg forward in an ape-like walk, trailing black ichor that served as blood, towards the traitor, a stump where the left leg was missing. He struggled to tear with his remaining hand, to finish the demon, to turn him into the lowest of the slime of hell – Better! To consume the dark soul until it was no more, to digest and spit out that which they called “Love”.

As the Emperor got close to the puny and broken imp, close enough to strike with what was left of his claws and fangs, Orcus held his left hand outstretched towards the Emperor…

Was this beseeching? That thought was entertaining.

A plea for mercy? A laugh at the thought rose in Satan’s mind.

A plea? Hardly.

It was a call, a command to a part of the demon’s own wholeness, a call to an old friend, a gift from the Emperor that followed Orcus to the throne. The call to the Claw of Hades, a call that the ax must answer. Return to its owner no matter the obstacle.

Behind the Dark Lord, the Claw of Hades lay in the filth of the battlefield, forgotten in the rage of battle. Tossed so easily away by the more powerful demon and never given a thought after.

A mistake.

A fatal mistake.

The weapon, as much a part of Orcus as his tail was, answered its call. The ten-pointed ax trembled, slightly at first, then turned blade first and raced through the air to the Master of the Ax in a straight line, regardless of what was in the way.

The Dark Lord became aware of the whistling noise, the disturbance drew the great demon’s attention, but too late.

Too late!

Returning to Master of the Ax, the cursed weapon drove through the through the forehead of the Dark Lord on the way to the hand of Orcus. The look of surprise was entertaining to the old demon as for one brief glorious moment as Orcus nearly laughed, the Great Devil himself, the destroyer, He who defeated Hel who gave her name to the kingdom that He then ruled. He who defeated Hel held his hands up in frozen stark surprise…

And imploded without a sound, like a shadow banished from view when a light shines into the darkness.

The Dark Lord was no more in one last anticlimactic, quiet, mundane moment.

All that was left, an ebony ring of an apple surrounded by a snake that fell to the ground. Frost formed where it bounced until it stopped moving. A  freezing fog formed around the ring, curling over the ground as it rested quietly in the dust.

Panting, barely strong enough to stand, pain was his second world, a second life of passion drove him to stand. Shredded and torn, his right-wing broken, dark blood oozed through dozens of new wounds that covered his body as he knelt next to his angel.

Lifting her up in his arms, she reached up and caressed his face. His broken hand held hers gently. There were too many wounds on his immortal body, he was weak beyond description. The immortal demon was weakening further, the great heart had begun to beat, now faltered. He caressed her face with a blood-stained finger tears leaked from his eyes as dark blood leaked out of him into the dirt.

“I’d do anything for you.” He whispered softly and nodded, “I would do anything for your love, but I would not do that. I could never do that.”

“Come with me.” Bronwyn whispered. “Come back home. You are free.”

A soft cough from a few steps away interrupted.

“Hell needs an Emperor.” The Lucifer said, standing behind Orcus. “It is advancement by assassination in Hell. He must take his place on the throne.”

“NO!” The Angel refused to accept this! Orcus sacrificed it all for her life.

“NO! Stay with me!” Bronwyn argued. pulling on Orcus’ arms, her own hands too weak to grip tightly.”Turn away from all this, come home. I will not have this!”

“He could do anything for love. Fight the old Emperor,” Asmodeus nodded, frowning as he handed the ebony black ring of an apple surrounded by a snake to Orcus. “and win. He has changed the course of a war, changed a thousand hearts. He has altered the universe in uncountable ways. He did that all for love.”

“He did it all.” Lucifer nodded. “He did it all for love. But he cannot go with you.”

“He can’t do that.” Beelzebub whispered as he shook his head and bowed to the new Emperor.

The cool hand of Bronwyn touched him in between the shoulder-blades. “Orcus”, the name echoed in the webs of his dream, his face was wet from tears, Kane had cried out in his sleep.

Kisses on his cheeks as the hands of an angel cupped his face.

“What makes you cry?” She frowned with concern in her eyes.

“I dreamed I had lost you. Our time together was over and I had to use my powers to save you. I also remember my name, from so long ago. Orcus.”

“I remember that name. Punisher of broken promises and oaths. No wonder you do not break promises to children.” She smiled at him. “You are the children’s guardian of promises. You keep the promise of the gift giving when the days grow short and life begins anew. You are the one to shape a child’s view of the world.”

He shook his head, “I still lost you and I will not allow that. Ever.”

She slid her arms around him as she kissed her husbands tears away.

“We can change the future.”

Together they slept the rest of the night, no further dreams intruded.

But Kane had his doubts.

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 13. Heaven Sent

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13. Heaven Sent

She had been meditating, but peace would not come.

In this place Love and Peace were the orders of the realm. But, alas, such was not forthcoming. She had known that he was cast out and he was living with humans. Even such things are harsh for imps and demons She knew in her heart that she had to try to ask a favor, permission to allow her to help him, somehow.

With a heavy sigh, she stood up and walked away to where help could be obtained.

As she approached the place where the Lord of Everything held court, she met Gabriel the Archangel outside.

“The Lord is expecting you. If anything, you are late.” He brushed a crimson lock out of her face, giving her a critical look and walking circles around the small angel, assessing her,  he gave Bronwyn the rules of speaking in the inner sanctum.

“Speak only when spoken to, keep your answers short and direct. Stand up straight. One word answers are best. Do not exaggerate, you would be found out before you even said the words. Stand straight, smile but do not look directly at the Lord. Use the title at the end of each answer. Yes, Lord. No, Lord. And so forth, stand up straight when you do.” Gabriel plucked at her hair, fluffed her wings, tucked her here and there. Then stopped, tapping his chin with a knuckle. “Spend as little time as possible there, the Lord is very busy. Stand up straight. All answers to questions and requests are final, do not argue or attempt to change the answer with any kind of debate. Be sure to stand up straight. Now, off you go, do not wait around. And stand up straight!”

Bronwyn stepped through the gates and into the light. She was momentarily blinded the bright light on the other side of the portal, but then her eyes adjusted.

She found herself in a garden with the bluest of skies. A woman slightly older than Bronwyn was planting a row of flowers in one area of the garden. No one else was nearby and the woman looked up and smiled but kept at her work that she seemed to enjoy a great deal.

Hesitantly, Bronwyn stepped towards the woman, moving so she could see all that the digging and planting was doing when the woman stood up and brushed the dirt from her hands.

“Well, a lot done, but a lot to do still.” She smiled at the younger angel. “You have come to see me in regards of a matter of the demon who had been cast of hell out by his master and Emperor?”

Bronwyn took a sharp breath.

“You, um, you are the Lord?” She stammered. “I expected someone older, a man with a beard perhaps. I had never thought of a woman.”

“What you wish to see is what I will be,” The Woman-Lord laughed delicately. “But I thought you might have a better time relating to someone closer to your age. Image and perception accounts for a lot when telling of matters such as you have. I can even be a girl of your appearance.”

With that, the Lord changed slightly and appeared as young as Bronwyn, a girl that she could confide in, with bright eyes and wide smile as she sat.

“Tell me! Tell me about him? Is he exciting? Does he make your toes curl when you think of him?” The girl held a flower to her nose and sniffed it with her eyes shut. “Someone that would hold your hand and laugh with a sparkle in his eyes just for you.” She giggled as she put the flower in Bronwyn’s hair. “Have some of this! It is what is called chocolate, one of my greatest creations!”

Bronwyn laughed nervously as she took a bite of the small bit of dark confection, it was heaven on her tongue.

“This is a bit too much, too fast of a change.” She gave a deep sigh. “But, I know he is among humans, he is alone and can not speak the language. He risked everything of his being just for me.”

“He now is in need of help,” Bronwyn frowned. “And we are always sent to help someone who needs or asks. Even if they should never ask, you have said that to offer, to teach a way out is the best way. That sometimes those that can see the clearest are the most blind.”

The Supreme Being now appeared as an elderly woman with wisdom and long found happiness nodded.

“My child, you have the power to do as you wish. It has always been about freedom of choice. You are here on this plane of existence because of the path you have chosen. He is on his path because of the choices he made in his early life. If you believe he needs guidance and help, you may go. Finis has already talked with him and given him a gift that will be most useful. But you must choose. Only you can choose. You can guide him as an angel and then Finis is no longer going to act as a go-between, until… and if… your demon fails his tribulation.” The elder Lord said softly.

She stroked a wilted and dying flower that became tall and strong again at her touch, she turned and took Bronwyn’s hands in hers, the matronly image continued.

”If he fails and falls, Finis will return him to the dark-side as a slave forever; or you can go without your powers, as immortal as his Dark Lord has condemned him to live, but you will not have any other direct contact than Finis. He will be your mentor, guide and go-between of this place and the human existence, other angels have spoken. They have all said that they will not aid or hinder. The only one that offered to make contact with you is Finis, the Angel of Death, I have left it to him to act as a messenger. Other than Finis, you may not call upon the Host for any reason. You can speak in prayer to me only.”

Bronwyn jumped up, dancing on the balls of her feet, her mind made up.

“I choose the life of being a human with him! If that is one of my choices, that is the choice I will be!”

“My dear child, be sure this is what you want. On earth there is a saying ‘be careful of what you wish for, you may get it.'” The Grandmother-Lord said softly.

“Lord, this is what I want. What I wish to do with him, where ever he goes on that plane, I will be at his side.”

“Then it is so,” The slightly older woman appeared again. “You may keep your blessed sword and angel armor, you will have knowledge that you have now and clothing. Several of the Archangels have said they also have gifts to give you that will not cause disruption with humans. No magic, no powers. But you will not grow old, this is one of the trials you will have to endure. For if it seems that you are more than human, all my children on earth will turn on you and he. You can not stay in one area for long. No place will be a permanent home for the both of you. Wars will come, famine, terrible things. He is in a time of prehistory of humankind. The best and most worst of the human soul has yet been realized. You will be part of it, you may influence it to one degree or another. Finis will help guide you through the times and ages. But be warned! Demons and other dark forces will try to create havoc with you and cause him to fail. All he has to do is call upon his powers once. Just once. Just one time and he will be lost to the Emperor of Hell for all time.”

“My child, go now to him.” She said it with a motherly look in her eyes. “You have only one chance to choose. Make the wise choice, for it will be forever. Time will move for you only one direction, one minute after another. Time cannot be as flexible for you as it is for the Host, how we can choose to move forward or backward through time. For us, time is not a line, but there for you, it will be.”

She smiled. Once more a girl the same age as Bronwyn.

“Go on hun! Be happy and take good and well care of him. Give him some loving from me, too!” Her soft voice sounded like bells as she talked and laughed while she bounced on her feet like an excited teen confided in by a friend about her love.

Bronwyn walked down the path with a light heart and a little fear, at the edge of the garden she turned and looked back. There stood a smiling grandfather type that held a growing flower in his hand as he tenderly planted another growing life in the fertile soil of the garden.

Laughing, she turned and left the garden with confidence and a smile that made Gabriel scratch his head.

 

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 12. The First Sunburn

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12. The First Sunburn

Hours passed and the sun slowly slipped behind the trees, shading him, the cool change awoke him gently. He felt rested, but oddly stiff. A large lump had formed on his forehead. No doubt a souvenir of either his fall or near drowning. Another survey of himself showed that he looked like, well, like hell. Lumps and bruises covered him in a familiar coloring in many parts of his body. But more, his skin was a deep crimson hue and was more sensitive to the touch than he recalled from several hours ago when he first crawled on the rock and slept in the warming sun. 

Looking over the edge of the rock, he could see his ax glittering in the water below, but it’s depth was at least over his head.

He had to go get it, calling to it was out of the question, it was an exercise of his demonic powers, he knew. So he had to go get it like a human. Standing there he thought of a plan to retrieve it.

He jumped in, feet first, near where he could see his ax and he went all the way to the bottom. Putting feet on the rocky bottom and grabbing at the shiny blur – success! The now-human kicked off the bottom he launched himself much like when he could fly.

He broke the surface he found he was farther downstream than he thought he would be. He washed against some large boulders that formed a natural pool. He struggled against the current, slipping on the smooth river-rock. He climbed and slipped, climbed again. The fight to get out of the chill water was the most difficult he could remember. 

His hands were cold and slick, but using the hook end of the weapon to hauled himself up and out of the cold water. Chilled again, he looked around and followed a path downstream, slipping once on a rock that cut his foot painfully he fell into the dust of the late afternoon. Dust and dirt sticking to his wet, sunburned skin and limping in pain from the laceration on the instep of his foot, he walked as best he could. He fatigued quickly and began to shiver violently in the waning light of the day, even as he exerted himself. Stepping into a clearing and realized he stood on a wide path – more like a road! This meant someone must use it.

He was thankful as he walked a the slight downhill slope when a cloaked rider and horse pulled up, surprised at the sight of a nude, sunburned, dirt-covered and battered walker, the rider looked about the tree line.

“Who are you and what has happened that you would be looking like you are nearly dead?” The rider asked.

He knew the language well, but found he could not talk to the rider. His new body did not include knowledge on how to talk in a language. He had never spoken in a Terran voice, all he could do was make incomprehensible noises and then point at his throat.

Only then did he feel the great weight of what he would learn later would be total exhaustion. He felt like so much weight in his feet that he could no longer take another step. He slumped to his knees, using his weapon and sole companion as a brace, then his consciousness slipped into the darkness that closed around him and took him in its merciful embrace.

When he next awoke, he was on a sleeping pallet with a brightly dyed blanket over him and a familiar figure sitting on a stool watching him.

He had the look of an old man, but to call him elderly would be a mistake. He resembled a bearded grandfather, or the personification of the spirit of giving that is St. Nicholas. Except this jolly old St. Nick looked like one who spent far too much time in the gym and this was no ordinary angel.

Finis, the Angel Of Death, was watching the banished demon-come-human with an entertained look on his face.

“How do you feel? You have been asleep for nearly 24 hours.” He spoke in the language of the Host that only those of either side could understand.

“I have pain in places I never thought I had.” He took a breath and moaned as he tried to move. “This is a bad place for me, I cannot speak the languages even though I can understand them. The Dark Lord has put me in a dangerous place. I can not use my powers or I go back.”

The new human sighed heavily and leaned back closing his eyes against the nightmare that he found himself in. All because of his weakness for the Angel named Bronwyn.

Finis chuckled quietly before he spoke.

 

“There is one thing that the Supreme one granted to you.” He smiled. “After this, you can speak their language, and I can expand on that. You will be able to talk to all of them in their native tongues, after a fashion. You need familiarity with who you are talking with before you are able to speak to them. It would also be best that you think of something to explain why you were acting like some insane wild man staggering down the road looking like someone had beaten you with every ugly stick in these mountains.”

“What do I call myself? What CAN I call myself that doesn’t raise eyebrows and questions?”

The Angel of Death thought for a moment.

“You were not named by the Emperor, this would be a good thing, you would want to use that and this would be bad. No demon’s name would work on this plane of existence. As for a good name? I see that you had landed in a stream. Call yourself “Hill” or “Rivers” or something anyone would accept in this age.”

“Okay, good for a last name, but what about a first?” He thought of the name of Greenhill as he asked the Angel, shaking his head and not liking the name.

Finis looked away for a moment and sighed, “At this time in human history, there where few that had more than one name, and you are in a Celt, actually pre-Celt time. I would pick something like Conn or Cuinn, these are common names of this era.”

“I think Cuinn will work, recall that name as being one of the earliest recorded names– and you say this is what age?” He nodded.

“I have not told you yet.” Finis shook his head. “There are many things you have yet to learn about that are going to work for and against you.” the angel took a breath, “First: this is the late Neolithic era the island of what will be known as Ireland in the future time-line. You cannot change your time and you are alone. You can not die – you are immortal, but you will be surprised how much pain and misery you can live through. Added to the requirement that you must not use any of your powers, but they will be at your fingertips always. All you need to do is call upon them.  But!” The Angel of Death held up his index finger in admonishment. “Just one time and AFTER you do? You will return and then suffer the ravages of the condemned, forever as a slave of hell, no name, no power other than to scream in agony, to run along next to the victims of those who have fallen prey to the true demons. You cannot use any power, any time if you wish to stay here and away from the pits of Hell. They will all be watching, Angel AND Demon. All want you to fail, you have inflicted too much damage to Angels, have advanced too far in the Hoard. Only myself had any thoughts to deal with you directly as a liaison.”

“The only one that wants to deal with me is the Angel of Death, the one being that NO one wants to talk to, in the first place?” His predicament was getting so much worse by the minute.

Cuinn sighed and nodded, the most vile parts of human history had such things as dismemberment and torture. If he was at the dawn of the bronze age, he had a lot of superstitions to deal with in the coming years.

Pulling at his ear he asked Finis. “So you are to by my companion through all of this? My spy to the non-corporeal side?”

Finis laughed out loud, “HO! Hah… no… I am simply your liaison. You have someone who is even now seeking to assist you. You do not have many who would help you, there are many that have a grudge against you and that ax of yours.”

Looking out the window, Cuinn nodded slowly. It was war between the two sides, but hard feelings for those that suffered the pain of being sent back by his hand still existed. He was still the enemy after all. He could not see the angels that surrounded him and wished him to fail, to become a lowly slave of the deepest depths of Hell and not one of their own.

He wondered just who would be the spy, the friend that would help him or the underhanded soul who might push him to fail.

This would be a short rebellion on his part, he would be the lesson for everyone else who dared cross lines.

No one cheated Satan.