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This website is my short stories home. These are all complete as far as I’m concerned.

Some Science Fiction, Horror, Comedy throughout, likely a little fantasy, a few non genre too.

Home to Blood of Lynken, R.A.E.C.E., and Codename: Bear: Secret Agent.

Copyright 2019, Geoffrey C Porter

Goblin Soup

Heather brushed a few errant strands of straight, brown hair out of her eyes. “You know there’s a goblin living in the woods…”

I raised one eyebrow. “Which woods?”

“That little chunk of woods between Willow and Vine.” She pointed in the direction of the woods with her right hand, but then lowered her arm.

Ben fingered the hole in his pant leg with his thumb. “That’s like four trees and two shrubs.”

She shook her head.

The wind drifted through our playground kicking up little dust storms of dried leaves and dirt. I looked in the direction of Willow and Vine.

I was distracted when Angie punched me on the arm and then bounced back a step with her fists up. “Chicken!” She stood thin as a rail and had pale skin stretched over boney arms and hands. She wore tan pants and a white, button up shirt.

“What?” I asked.

Angie still held up her fists. “You’re afraid of the goblin.”

Ben laughed. “There isn’t any goblin.”

“I’ve seen it.” Heather nodded. “It said, ‘Good morning, my lady,’ to me.”

Angie poked me in the chest.

Ben stopped picking at the hole in his pants. “They want you to go check it out, Jeff.”

My brow furrowed into knots, and my eyes squinted.

Angie moved in close to me and put a fist within an inch of my face. “The woods, Willow and Vine, after school.”

The bell rang, and we raced back to our classrooms. Math, after lunch, then art, then history, then the four of us were walking towards our homes. Towards Willow and Vine. We stood on the edge of the vacant lot, and I looked from one friend to the other. The lot was overgrown with weeds taller than me, a few shrubs here and there, and this dense little cluster of trees in the center that could easily be hiding an elephant.

Angie kicked me on the shin. “You’re it!”

“Why can’t we go check out this goblin together?” I said.

Heather threw her hands into the air. “I’ve seen it.”

I looked at Angie and Ben.

“You think Angie hits hard…” Ben said.

“Come on, guys. This isn’t right,” I said. “We’re supposed to be friends.”

Angie pointed at my face with a rigid index finger. “Into the woods! Make the goblin come out!”

I started walking towards the center of the woods. I pushed past weeds and shrubs on a sort of trail that wound and twisted its way through the property. I walked and walked. Then I stopped. I should have made it to the other end of the lot by now. I turned to look back at my friends. Forest surrounded me and nothing more.

“Hello!”

A flock of birds took off from one of the trees. I started to retrace my steps. I walked and walked. Hunger and thirst started to get to me. I came across a stream and smiled. I took a drink of the water. I had to!

“Aren’t you worried about pollution?” A voice asked from behind me.

I turned to look. A short creature with dense brown hair all over its body looked at me. He seemed humanoid, I guess, but only a foot tall. He held a wooden pipe in his right hand and wore brown pants and a green shirt. His ears were big and pointy, and his eyeballs were huge for the size of his skull. He only had three fingers and a thumb on each hand, and each finger was adorned with a sharp claw. He had a distinct chin and a short nose with flaring nostrils. A backpack was slung over one shoulder, a beltpouch on his waist, and a tiny dagger maybe an inch long. “I said, aren’t you worried about pollution?”

I shook my head. “You haven’t had the tap water around here, have you? Are you a goblin?”

“I’m James Fourtooth,” the tiny creature said. “I’ve been called many things.”

“But some people call you goblin…”

James shook his little head. Then he turned to leave.

“Wait! I need to get out of the forest,” I said.

“Why did you come here?”

“My name is Jeff. My friends sent me to find you. They want to meet you.”

James shrugged.

I knelt down to be level with the goblin, and he sort of backed away a bit. “At least, show me the way out of the forest.”

“No, see, your friends knew the forest is enchanted, and they just wanted to get rid of you. You’ll find you can survive off nuts and berries and fruits. As you grow older, you’ll learn to hunt and trap for meat. It’ll take months, but you’ll learn how to make your own fire.”

My eyes opened wide. “Help me!”

“You must do me a favor. I will show you the way out of the forest, but you must bring me something in return.”

“Wait, bring you what?”

“I need two 3 lbs. bags of fresh apples.”

“What?”

The little creature’s eyes narrowed into slits. “There isn’t a single apple tree in this forest!”

“I don’t have any money for apples.”

“Then I guess you’re doomed,” James said.

“Hey!”

The goblin winked at me. “You could steal the apples. Just walk into the grocery store, pick out two nice looking bags, and walk out with them.”

I looked from the goblin around to make sure no one overheard.

“Come on…” The goblin said.

“I’ll do it!”

The goblin pointed to his left. “Walk straight that way, and you’ll reach the edge of my domain. If you don’t return within 3 days, I’ll come looking for you.”

I started walking in the direction the goblin pointed in. Within a few steps, I turned to go around a bush, and my friends were standing there pointing at me and laughing. I walked up to them.

“Did you see the goblin?” Ben asked.

I whimpered.

“You were in there for like an hour,” Heather said.

Angie stomped on my toes. “I bet he was in there wanking.”

“Oww! I was not!”

“We better get home,” Ben said.

We all went our separate ways. I went directly into my garage, and hopped on my bike. I pedaled like mad for the corner grocery store. I leaned my bike against a post and walked inside the store. The Granny Smith apples were closest, and I grabbed two bags. I started walking out the door. I made it to my bike. Somebody shouted, “Did you pay for those?”

I threw the bags in my oversized basket on the bike and took off. I raced all the way to Willow and Vine. My heart thumped in my chest, and my legs burned. I climbed off the bike and walked into the woods with the apples. Within a bit, I found myself at the stream again.

“Granny Smith?” The goblin asked.

I smiled. “They’re the best apples.”

“They’re disgusting. I specifically asked for Red Delicious!”

“You did not! You said apples. Granny Smith are my favorite!”

The goblin fingered the dagger on his belt. “Red Delicious!”

I glared. “Tell me how to get out of the woods.”

“You’ll bring me proper apples!” The goblin said.

“Tell me how to get out of the forest.”

The goblin pointed in a different direction than last time. “If you don’t return within three days, with the right apples, I’ll come looking for you.”

And I thought to myself, yes, if you come looking for me, I’ll punt you across town…

I started walking in the direction the goblin pointed. Soon enough, the familiar sight of my bike greeted me. I pedaled home. My mom was sitting on the porch waiting for me with a scowl. I sighed.

“Where have you been?” she asked.

“Long story.”

“That’s not good enough, Jeffrey. I was this close to calling the authorities.”

I looked her in the eyes and whimpered. “Would you prefer the truth or a lie?”

Her left eye squinted. “Would I believe the truth?”

“No.”

She waved at the front door. “Get inside. I’ll cook us some dinner.”

We ate canned corn, dinner rolls, and black beans & rice. I went to sleep early.

The next morning on the walk to school, Heather joined me. I mean, she came running up to me. She grabbed my arm and made me stop.

“What?” I asked.

She grinned wide. “I slept through the night!”

“So?”

“Well, lately I’ve been having these nightmares…”

I nodded. She kissed me on the cheek and took off in a run towards school. I shook my head. School passed quickly. In fact, the next couple of days seemed to just fly by. On the third day, I lay down to sleep.

My mind started to drift as I slipped into my slumber. Then I saw the goblin. He showed me his teeth and drew his tiny blade. Forest surrounded me. The goblin came at me, and I kicked at him. He jumped up real high and cut me on the arm. It hurt bad! I opened my eyes, and I was in bed, safe and sound. I curled up with my pillow, and drifted off. Soon enough, I was in the forest again.

The goblin came at me, and I ran. He chased after me and stabbed me in the calf. He must have hit a nerve because the pain was worse than last time. I woke up. I stared at the wall. I paced my room. I crawled back into bed. Soon enough, I was in those damn woods, and there was the goblin with his little dagger drawn.

“What do you want?” I shouted.

He charged me and jumped up slicing into my face with his knife. The pain woke me. I took a hot shower and waited for dawn. It was Friday, but I didn’t even head to school. I pedaled my bike to the grocery store. I went in, and found two nice bags of Red Delicious apples. I looked around, and the coast was clear. I casually walked towards the entrance. A manager stepped in front me. “Are you going to pay for those apples?”

I moved fast. “I’m hungry, my mom lost her job, and we don’t have anything to eat.”

The manager sighed.

I did my best to look pitiful. I pretended Angie just hit me.

The man grabbed for one of the bags. “You can have one but don’t come back without money!”

“I need two!”

The man glared at me. “Put both bags back where you found them.”

I gauged my odds. I kicked the man in the shin and ran. He didn’t give chase. He was kind of pudgy to be honest.

I put the bags in the basket on the bike. I raced to Willow and Vine. I walked into the woods, and soon enough I made my way to the stream. I shouted, “Where are you?”

“Behind you.”

I turned.

The goblin did a tiny dance. “Give me the apples.”

I handed over the apples. He sampled one.

“Which way is out of the forest?” I asked.

The goblin ignored me and kept on eating the apple.

“Which way?” I asked.

“Do you know what whiskey is? Cause I happen to need some,” the goblin said.

I shook my head. “I only seen whiskey in old John Wayne movies.”

“Well, you need to find me some, at least a liter. Bourbon whiskey.”

“You’re insane!”

The goblin laughed. “No, I’m in charge.”

“I want out!”

The goblin shook his head. “The only way out is for you to send somebody into these woods in your stead. That’s how Heather got away from me.”

“What!”

“Get me the whiskey. Maybe I’ll let you go forever then.”

“I don’t even know what whiskey looks like!”

“It comes in bottles. Adults keep it around the house just search for it. The label on the bottle needs to say BOURBON.”

I shivered just a bit.

The goblin pointed. “That way will get you out of the forest.”

I started walking. I biked home. Then I remembered, school day. I ran all the way to school. On arriving, I was quickly escorted to the principal’s office. “It’s past lunch, and you’re just now getting here? We tried to reach your mother at work, but we couldn’t.”

“I’m sorry.”

The principal rubbed on his chin. “Where have you been?”

I did it. I started to cry. The best solution I could come up with.

“Oh dear Lord, not another one!” The principal exclaimed.

I cocked my head to the side.

“Where were you!” He asked.

“I didn’t sleep last night, and I was on my way to school, and I fell and ripped my pants, so I had to go home. I just lay down on the couch for a moment, but I slept and slept.”

The principal nodded and nodded. I stopped crying.

“Get to class!” He said.

I ran to class.

Heather, Ben, and Angie caught up to me on my walk home. Angie punched me on the arm. “How’s Jeff today? Late for school much?”

I turned to face Heather.

“I had no choice!” She said.

I shook my head and started walking. Ben and Angie chased after me. Heather went the other direction.

“What’s going on?” Ben asked.

I paused. “Oh, nothing.”

“Something’s going on,” Angie said.

I looked at Angie and smiled. “You haven’t seen the goblin yet…”

“There’s no goblin,” Ben said.

I pointed at Ben’s chest. “You haven’t seen him either. He’s pretty cool.”

Ben shook his head. Angie punched me in the kidney. I started walking. Ben and Angie walked alongside me. Ben turned to go to his house. Angie walked next to me.

“You want to meet the goblin,” I said. “He’s so cool.”

Angie smiled. “I’ll go into the woods, if you go with me.”

“Ok.”

We walked to Willow and Vine. We pushed our way past shrubs and bushes. Soon enough, we were in a dense forest. The stream babbled, and I took a little drink.

“Two for the price of one!” The goblin howled.

Angie and I turned. The goblin stood there with a massive grin.

“Which way is out, goblin!” I said.

The goblin shook his head. He pointed at me. “You’re in charge of the Bourbon.” He pointed at Angie. “You’re in charge of the cigarettes.”

“What?” Angie asked.

My eyes narrowed into tiny beads. “You said if I got somebody else, you’d release me!”

The goblin started to dance and then stopped. “If she had come in alone, I would have, but now, the rules have changed.”

“What rules? What’s going on?” Angie asked.

I didn’t want to answer.

The goblin pointed at Angie’s chest. “You have essentially two choices. Stay in this forest forever, surviving off nuts and berries, or you can bring me a pack of cigarettes. You have three days to return, if you don’t return by then I come looking for you.”

“I don’t know anybody who smokes!” Angie said.

“How do we get out of the forest?” I asked.

“I’ll give you three days too, to bring the whiskey.” He pointed off in a direction, and I started walking.

“Wait!” Angie yelled.

I stopped walking.

She pointed at the goblin. “You did this to Heather already. We suckered Jeff into coming in here. If we send in somebody else, you’ll release both of us?”

The goblin nodded.

I started walking again. Angie hurried to catch up to me. We made it out of the forest. She stopped walking, and I stopped. She hit me with a right cross hard enough to knock me on my ass.

“Angie!” I shouted.

“What happens in three days!”

“The goblin will invade your dreams.”

“Ha! I’m not afraid of a dream!”

I pushed myself off the ground. She took another swing at me, and I dodged!

I spent the next three days doing my best to find a bottle of bourbon, to no avail. The goblin haunted my dreams, and I simply stayed up. At school the next day, Angie looked like she hadn’t slept a wink. Heather, Ben, Angie, and I were eating lunch. Angie gave Ben a curt little smile. “You haven’t met the goblin yet.”

Ben shrugged.

“You’re both trapped now?” Heather asked.

“Hush,” Angie whispered.

Ben stuck his finger in his macaroni and cheese. “I wish they gave us more macaroni and cheese when they served it, and it’s not even hot.”

“You want to meet the goblin,” I said.

Ben nodded. “No.”

Angie picked up her tray and stood up. “I’ve got to go.”

Heather followed her. “See you, guys.”

I gave Ben my best friendly face. “You need to meet the goblin.”

He poked me in the chest. “No, you need to kill the goblin.”

“What?”

“Get yourself a good-sized rock. Bash his skull in. Heather told me everything. It’s up to you.”

“But… I’ll be trapped in the forest forever.”

Ben shook his head and whispered, “The goblin is the source of the magic. Finish him, and the forest will return to normal.”

“You don’t know that!”

“Better you than me.”

The school day passed away uneventfully. The four of us were walking home.

“I’m going to kill the goblin,” I said. “Come with me and wait for me to come out of the forest.”

“Yes,” Ben said.

We made it to the edge of the vacant lot, and I found a nice rock just bigger than the palm of my hand. A plan formed in my mind, and I carried the rock behind me as I walked into the forest. After a while of wandering, I came up on the stream where I always met the goblin.

The goblin stepped out from behind a shrub.

“I’ve got something for you, but it’s a secret,” I said.

“Oh?”

“Yes, let me whisper in your ear what it is.”

The goblin pranced about a bit and then cupped his hand over his ear. “What is it?”

I leaned in close. I swung that rock on his head as hard as I could. Blood flowed.

“You’ll be trapped forever!” The goblin howled.

I hit over and over. The goblin lay still. I put my hand on his heart. No beat. I tossed the rock aside and started walking back the way I came. Walking and walking, I came upon the stream and the goblin’s body. I tried again. I got nowhere.

Ben’s words echoed in my mind. “The goblin is the source of the magic.”

I took the goblin’s knife off his belt and hacked off his head. I held the head in my hand and started walking. I stepped past a tree, and Heather, Angie, and Ben all laughed and clapped. I smiled and tossed the head at their feet. “One dead goblin.”

Ben picked up the head and lifted it as if to test its weight. “This is just enough to make soup.”

Heather went, “Ewww…”

 

The Vanguard

I kicked my heels into the horse to keep up with the others, and for the first time since the start of this ordeal, I thought to myself, I’m too young to die. The horse galloped forward, and in the distance, the edge of a great field of tall grass lined the horizon.

The tops of black helmets rose up in the distance climbing up the slope of the other end of the field like a line of obsidian specks. A line of black as far as the eye could see dotted the edge of the horizon. I rode at the front of the vanguard, so far in the front, that I was only two places from High Lord Kirl who led the charge. Kirl drew his blade, and I instinctively drew mine in a flash with the rest of the vanguard. I remembered back to the stories the elders told around the fire about The Throng: stories of hellspawn and demons.

As the distance closed between us, The Throng’s long pikes and shields glimmered in the morning sun. They wore pitch black plated armor from head to toe. A great volley of arrows flew up from the rear ranks of the enemy. Kirl raised his sword high. He grimaced with concentration and shouted out a word from our cryptic ancient tongue. The swarm of thousands of arrows changed paths as they descended, landing harmlessly to the left and right of us.

Galloping at full speed, we closed the distance to The Throng in a flash. The enemy pointed their pikes down at us and met our charge. A pike caught me in the gut, and I jumped upwards careening high over the first line of footmen. It hurt, but it didn’t pierce my chainmail. The smith promised me it would be good for two or three solid blows then no better than common steel.

It threw my mind into gear with the pulse of adrenalin raging through my heart. I’m going to die, I thought to myself. I plunged my sword into the chest of the closest of my enemies, and in a flash, the high points of his life echoed through my psyche. His first true best friend, his first experience with a woman, and his training with The Throng. It rushed through me, and I pulled my sword free.

The sword drank up the thin glaze of blood and gleamed clean and shiny in the sun. An enemy tried swinging at me, and my blade moved out of instinct parrying the pike. I pushed the blade through the faceplate of the other soldier, again, another life flashed before my eyes. My anger flared like a tiny burning chunk of charcoal in my chest. These people were the same as we are–why do they attack us?

In a heartbeat, I thought back to my own life. Three months ago, it changed on a new year’s morning with my youngest sister jumping on my bed shouting, “The call-to-arms! The call-to-arms!”

I growled at her. “Get out of here.” Thinking, could it be true so early in the year and just three years after the last invasion?

I rolled over in bed and went back to sleep. I wasn’t about to give up my warm bed over the cries of a six-year-old. Then a few minutes later, a firm knock reverberated on my door, which I knew to be my dad.

“Yes?” I asked.

“They’ve called the conscription, Son. Get up and get breakfast.”

I crawled out of bed, ran my fingers through my hair, and headed to the kitchen for breakfast. I made my decision as I jumped down the last three steps of the stairs. I would fight. Mom set a plate down on the table and poured me a cup of milk.

“They’re expecting everybody to report today, Memnock,” Dad said. “You don’t need to take anything with you. Just go down to the town center after breakfast.”

“He shouldn’t have to go,” Mom said. “There are rules. We already lost one son. He doesn’t have to go.”

Dad glared. “I faced The Throng three times, Woman! It’s not a death sentence.”

Mom reached up and touched her eye like to rub back a tear. “I miss Jericho.”

“We all do. There won’t be many this time what with the last conscription being just three years back. He’s needed. We’ll still have Jacob.”

I spoke quietly between bites, “I’m going to fight.”

Mom and dad simply nodded. I finished the last of my food and went to my room, what used to be mine and my big brother’s room. I wanted to at least be wearing my best pants and shirt. I donned my coat and headed to the front door. My little brother eyed me and looked down at his feet.

I ruffled the little bugger’s hair. “Don’t worry, Jacob. We’ll break their line. We’ll send them running back to the ocean.”

Jacob twisted his head out of my reach obviously preferring not to have his hair ruffled. “I want to fight!”

I thought silently to myself, if I fail you might just get your wish. “You’re too young, little brother.”

“I’m too young for everything but chores!”

I laughed and reached for his head a second time. He dodged out of the way and ran. I headed downstairs.

My mom, dad, and little sister waited at the door for me. I nodded to them. “Well, I’m off.”

Mom tried to smile. “Just remember, you don’t have to do this. You can change your mind.”

Dad sniped, “He’s not going to change his mind.”

I smiled. “Goodbye.”

I made it to town and some soldiers directed me to the army’s training field. When I made it there, a soldier told me to stand in line. One by one young men would step into a tent, then step back out of the tent through a separate opening wearing a blue bandanna on their arm. When I got to the front of the line, I kept hearing someone cry out right after a person stepped into the tent. It came to be my turn, and I stepped into the twilight. A shirtless, veteran fighter, with rippled muscles and scars, sat behind a low burning fire of embers. He looked me in the eye. Then he whipped his hand out from behind his back and threw something at my face. I caught it. I cursed. It hurt my hand, a chunk of iron, and it would have hit me right in the face!

“What’s your name?” The fighter asked.

I almost threw the iron pellet back at him. “Memnock.”

He wrote down my name in a book, glanced at me again. “Your brother was Jericho?”

“Yes.”

“You look like him, and just like Jericho, you’ve made it into the vanguard. I’m putting you with Lord Patrick.” He stepped forward and tied a red bandana on my left arm and pointed towards a flap in the tent. “That way.”

“What do I do?”

“Find Lord Patrick and tell him you caught the iron.”

I stepped through that tent flap into the troop compound. I went from person to person asking about Lord Patrick until I finally found him with a group of well-dressed men wearing purple tunics with gold borders. I told him I caught the iron pellet. He grabbed me by the shoulder and grinned like a starving carnivore that just grilled a thick steak. I simply stared back at him.

“Most young men hear about the test, and make a conscious choice. If they want to be in the vanguard, they try and dodge the iron. If they don’t want the glory, they let the pellet hit them.” He shook his head. “They just close their eyes and hope not to lose a tooth.”

“I never heard of anything like it. What’s it mean to catch the iron?”

“Boy, it means either you got very lucky, but you’re actually inept, and you’ll be one of the first to die, or it means you were born to fight in the vanguard. You’ll ride by my side, and I’ll be right next to High Lord Kirl.”

I smiled, hoping for the latter. Lord Patrick turned to face the other lords and seemed to ignore me.

“What should I do?” I asked.

Patrick pointed to a pile of rusty old swords. “Take one of those swords, go to one of those trees in the field over there, and hit it.”

“Then what?”

“Hit it again. Until you can’t hit it anymore.”

I nodded. I went over to a stack of swords and picked out one of the less rusty ones. The edge of the blade looked dull and here and there it had nicks in it. I tested the balance. It clearly weighed heavy towards the point and seemed far heavier than it needed to be. I walked back over to Lord Patrick and cleared my throat. “Excuse me, my lord, will I carry this sword into battle?”

Patrick shook his head. “You surely won’t be fighting a tree when the time comes either. We’ll forge a blade for you to use.”

The next day, in the chow tent, I gave up trying to count how many young men had a fresh bruise on their face from the test of the iron.

A few weeks later, I was summoned to the armory tent. I stepped inside, and Lord Patrick waited. He handed me a sword in its scabbard. “There’s your fury blade, Memnock. Take it!”

I took the sword and drew it. I hefted its weight and smiled. The balance was perfect and the edge razor sharp. Suddenly it purred in my hand like a young kitten almost. I looked to Lord Patrick. “It’s alive?”

“Yes, forged with dragon’s blood, attuned to you. It has your name on the hilt.”

I looked and indeed carved on the hilt was the word, Memnock. I smiled and sheathed the sword. Months passed as the army trained and trained. On the eve of the battle, I met Kirl for the first time. He had piercing hazel eyes and a tightly trimmed beard. He stood next to a boiling cauldron of red liquid. Patrick waited for me. An ancient hag poured some of the liquid into a silver cup and held it out to me.

“Drink it, Memnock,” Lord Patrick said.

I took a sip. “Eww, what is it supposed to taste like?”

“Dragon’s blood,” Kirl said. “Drink it. It’ll prepare you for the battle tomorrow.”

I drank it down. It burned in my stomach. It tasted of ash, soot, copper, and salt. Setting the cup down, I looked to the lords.

“In the battle tomorrow,” Kirl said. “You’ll be at Lord Patrick’s right, if he should fall, form up with me.”

I pondered the situation. “What if you fall, Lord Kirl?”

Patrick laughed with some passion. “If he falls, Memnock, all is lost.”

“My boy,” Kirl said. “If I fall in combat, you can consider yourself in charge. Advance. The plan is a simple one. We need to punch through the body of The Throng and reach their command pavilion, hopefully killing some or all of their generals. In the past, if we’ve reached their command pavilion, they’ll order a retreat. We’ll have to give chase. Understood?”

I nodded. Both lords seemed to ignore me at that point–I looked to Lord Patrick. “What should I do?”

“Most men try to sleep, some know they can’t and just stay up, play dice, and watch fires burn.”

I knew that meant I could do whatever I wanted, a rare luxury in military life. “Thank you, my lord.”

As I walked towards my tent, my thoughts drifted. The earth below my feet seemed to get swampy and mushy. It felt odd, but I felt strangely at ease. I wanted to get plenty of sleep so I went into my tent and lay down on my mat. I drifted off into endless colored dreams. I dreamed of so many things it felt like an afterlife’s worth. Dreams of harvest time played over and over in my mind intermixed with dreams of my family, and then there were the dreams of women, dozens of dreams of women. I woke to the sound of thundering drums. The first time they’d played the drums since the start of my conscription. They thumped so loud, and my head felt so strange that it felt like they vibrated through the very Earth. I donned my chainmail and strapped on my blade. I stepped out of the tent, and a beautiful vixen of a maiden ran towards me carrying another silver cup of red, frothy liquid.

“Memnock!” She shouted out.

My first thought was that I dreamed, but that I should play along. “Over here.”

She stepped towards me and held out the silver cup. “From High Lord Kirl.”

I took the cup and drank it down. The sheer acid taste of it burned my throat and woke me to the reality that this wasn’t a dream.

* * *

As the battle raged around me, I struck down opponent after opponent, trying to fight my way back to the rest of the vanguard. With each enemy I struck down, I seemed to breathe in their life force and grow stronger. My blade stayed clean and sharp the entire time, then I noticed it started to cast off white light and move faster than I could possibly swing it myself. That’s when a behemoth of a man struck down Lord Patrick with one swift blow to the neck sending his head flying off.

He stood a hand and a half taller than me and almost twice as wide with black hair and pale blue eyes. His arms and legs rippled with muscle. Unlike the other enemy warriors, he wore no armor save for a horned helm and leather protecting his groin. His axe blade glistened red with blood in the stark morning light. Blood of my fallen brothers.

I charged him aiming with all my strength for the point on his neck where it attached to the shoulder. He flashed his teeth at me. Then he moved the axe with a swiftness I couldn’t believe and our blades stuck together. We both jerked back at the same time pulling the blades free. He examined the edge of his axe peering intently at the new dent. My blade didn’t lose its edge. I redoubled my effort striking over and over at his face and neck. For every strike I made, the axe flashed.

He flipped his grip on the axe, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye aimed for my neck. I ducked straight under it, and an exposed kneecap presented itself as a golden opportunity. I lashed out with my sword slicing an inch deep cut right through his leg. My enemy screeched in pain and dropped his guard. I didn’t have time to revel in it. I spun around, lopping his head off.

In a circle around me, the fighting had stopped and both sides watched. Then I heard a low roar from my side of the line. A great splattering of lightning crashed down around Kirl. The word ‘Rally!’ sounded louder than thunder from him. I ran like the wind through the tall grass and over the bodies to where Kirl stood.

I reached the high lord first. The Throng surrounded us, but more of the vanguard approached. I looked to Kirl. “Why do they attack us? They’re no different from us.”

“It’s because we use magic, Lord Memnock. Don’t you feel the power flowing through you?”

I paled at the thought. Why not use magic? Magic strengthens the farmer’s plow. Magic seals the grain silo. Magic heals wounds. I took note though. Arcane energy flowed through me like never before.

The vanguard finally formed up around us. Kirl howled. “Advance! Advance!”

My guts pulled me forward into the hornet’s nest of enemy swords and pikes. In the distance, with just a few more ranks of enemies in the way, the honor guard flags of the enemy war generals rustled in the wind.

October

The full moon above twisted the shadows into shapes of demons and specters. I clutched at Jessica’s hand as we walked through the woods looking for refuge. October is upon us, echoed through my mind, and the beasts and goblins reigned like tyrants this year. First, they overran the big cities conquering humans in a blood rite unseen for countless centuries. What awakened the monsters this October? They advanced through population centers like hordes of flesh crazed maniacs. The metropolises stood devoid of human life soon enough, and the devilish masses started crowding into small towns in the night across the weeks before Halloween. Only in the tiniest of remote rural locations did humans still walk the earth.

We were in the process of fleeing from their dark carcasses that seemed to bleed pieces of reality. We needed to find a house and quick. The moon lit the trail a bit, and I whispered to Jessica, “Let’s run…”

So, we ran. A light in the distance sparked in the blur of a slick grey fog. A simple house fleshed itself out in our vision the closer we ran. I saw the hell hound on the porch, and I knew the wicked creatures were ahead of us…

Jessica pulled on my hand, and the canine with jagged contours of solid obsidian wrapped tightly across a skeletal form looked up at us. Well, at me, right in the eyes. It made a deep guttural growl that sounded more like gravel grinding on gravel than a dog’s growl.

I said in the most hushed of tones, “The dog!”

“He’s on a chain! Come on!”

We ran up to the door and knocked. A humanoid shape answered with hewn rock arms and legs and a fat, plump belly. The entity of deep cut edges laughed a throaty crackle. The abomination’s clothes were a shifting, turning array of colors in paisley patterns. The thing’s adornments made me stare at the mind-numbing shapes as they morphed between dreams.

It shouted in a broken, choppy voice, “Look, honey, trick or treaters! And they’re dressed as little humans!”

A second granite like figure stepped down the hallway with a kaleidoscope of colors weaving out tales in the fabric of her dress at a lightning pace.

Jessica and I held out our bags.

The female rock thing said, “Did they say ‘Trick or Treat’ yet?”

“No. Wait, maybe they did… Get the candy.”

The female promptly returned and dropped two full sized candy bars into each of our bags.

We ran.

We pulled to a stop, and Jessica started eating a treat.

“We can’t keep doing this,” I said. “It’s been almost a week!”

“Do you have a better plan? No, these creatures think every day is Halloween, we have the perfect costumes, and we have to eat!”

“I don’t even like candy!”

“Damn you, Lucas, and your diabetes! I give you all the fruit we get, don’t I?”

“We got apples once in six days, and they were covered in caramel!”

“Come on, we can get three more houses in before dawn.”

* * *

Part II

We slept the day away under a willow tree by a rolling stream. Hunger ate away at my insides and my hand shook. I reached in my bag, pulled out a bag of disgusting gourmet chocolate treats with a crunchy candy shell, and ate just enough to quiet my stomach and calm my nerves.

Darkness fell on us as the sun set, and we were off. We hit house after house that night. With the rising sun, we collapsed in a ditch by the side of the road.

I slept for a while, but the grip of hunger woke me, and I ate gummi candies until the shakes began to subside.

A voice shouted, “You kids! Are you alright?”

I looked. A man in an army uniform, with a machine gun at his side, crouched at the edge of our ditch with one knee bent. His hands were on his knees, and he was smiling wide.

The most primal of thoughts raced through my mind. This man might have food!

I nudged Jessica. She rubbed at her eyes and looked around.

“Are you kids alright?” The soldier man asked.

“We’re ok,” Jessica said.

“We need food!” I said.

The soldier laughed. “Come along with me, and we’ll get some food in you.”

Jessica and I ran at the soldier and hugged his legs tight.

The man patted our heads. “Come on. Hop in my jeep.”

We climbed into the back of his jeep, and he started driving.

“You kids are lucky to be alive,” he said. “We’ve been pushing the rock monsters back, but they’re heavy in this region.”

We nodded. We rode maybe a mile, maybe two. The encampment didn’t have a wall or even barbed wire around it, just a cluster of tents and vehicles in a field of hay.

“My name is Myers. If you need anything, look for me,” the man said.

He showed us to a tent, and we stepped inside. It had a big rectangular table in the center with four chairs around it.

“I think we have roast beef or turkey sandwiches today. What do you guys want?”

“Roast beef!” I said.

“Turkey!” Jessica exclaimed.

Myers took off in a run. Jessica and I smiled and in perfect unison started rubbing our hands together like the gleeful man plotting his escape from a tyrannical situation.

Myers returned with clear plastic packages. At first, I didn’t notice anything strange then I more closely examined the package he set in front of me. It looked like food, but there was something strange about it. It had rough contours and looked like it had been made of rock pieces mortared together. I couldn’t wait. I took a bite. Imagine biting into a gravel with mortar and sand sandwich. Rocks. Sand. Mortar. Jessica and I spit our bites out back into the plastic containers.

“What’s wrong?” Myers asked.

I noticed it finally. Myers was all straight lines and painted solids, not like a real person. Jessica stood up, and I followed her lead.

“Umm, we left something back by the side of the road,” Jessica said. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Oh, no, you can’t leave,” Myers said.

Jessica yelled, “Hiya!” jumping into the air and throwing her foot at Myers head. He sort of crumpled into a ball of lines and solid colors.

Jessica and I ran to the flap in the tent and took a look around. The coast was clear, and we walked calmly away from their camp.

“You kicked Myers in the head!” I exclaimed.

“Yeah.”

“How?”

She stopped walking and turned to stare at me. She reached out with her finger and poked me in the chest. “I’ve been telling you for years that I study Kung-Fu.”

“Yeah, but I…”

“You never listen to me.”

“I didn’t think they’d teach you how to kick somebody in the head,” I said.

“What do you think you learn at Kung-Fu?” She asked.

“I never thought about it. I thought it was maybe like dance class.”

“Come on, we’ve got to find our candy bags. Let’s run.” She pulled at my hand.

“No! We’ve got to find real food!”

She sighed.

“We have to find real food, or I’m gonna die, Jessica.”

She nodded.

“What are we going to do?” I asked.

She looked at me. She spoke softly, in her little I’m perfect we’ll do as I bid way, “First, we’ve got to get our bags. We have to eat something. Then, I have a plan.”

We walked and walked looking for our bags. Finally, just after dusk, we spotted them.

We ate a little bit then we started looking for a house. We knocked on the door.

The rock monsters gave us candy, as expected. But we didn’t run.

Jessica used her, please I’m cute voice, “My friend missed dinner. Is there any way you could spare a roast beef sandwich for him?”

The male rock monster looked to his female companion. Both creatures began to rub their chins.

“Please?” I whimpered.

The male smiled a wide toothy grin of razor teeth.

“We don’t have any roast beef,” the female said.

“But we grilled bratwurst an hour ago. We have some left,” the male said.

Jessica looked at me.

I drooled. “Bratwurst would be great.”

“Mustard? Ketchup? Pickle relish? Fresh onions?” The female asked.

I smiled. “Mustard and onions!”

The female wandered into the kitchen.

The male said, in a choppy, haggard voice, “My name is Johnathon. My wife is Bethany.”

“I’m Jessica.”

“Lucas.”

The woman returned carrying a flat, crystal, square plate hosting not one, but two bratwursts in buns. I grabbed the plate and sat on the floor with the plate resting on my knees.

Jessica kneeled down and tried to grab one of the brats.

I twisted out of her reach. “Get your own.”

Jessica looked up at the rock monster pair. Bethany cackled, with a high-pitched voice, “There’s another one in the kitchen, deary. What do you want on it?”

Jessica whispered, “Mustard and relish, please.”

I feasted.

Bethany returned carrying two of the crystal plates. The first carried a brat, which she held out to Jessica. She took the plate and sat down on the floor. Bethany held the second plate out to us, and it had two forks and four heaping bowls on it, coleslaw, baked beans, potato salad, and macaroni salad.

“Leftover from dinner,” Bethany said and set the plate on the floor between me and Jessica.

The two rock monsters left us alone in the hallway, and we stuffed ourselves like pigs.

At the end of the food, I said, “I feel much better.”

“Me, too.”

Jessica lay back on the floor, and stretched her legs out. The food was starting to work on me, and I felt a bit groggy.

“I’m tired,” Jessica said. “We’ve been running and walking nonstop for ages.”

“Me, too,” I said.

I lay down on my back and stared up at the ceiling.

“I’m going to close my eyes for a few minutes,” Jessica said. “Wake me up in a little while.”

“Ok.”

My eyes closed soon enough. I woke to the rays of the sun and looked around. I lay in a bed, a bunk bed, and I could tell from the pace of her snoring that Jessica was in the bed above me.

I nudged her mattress.

She groaned.

“Wake up, Jessica,” I said.

She poked her head over the side of the bed and looked at me.

“You didn’t wake me,” she complained.

“Yeah, yeah. What are we going to do?”

She blinked her eyes a few times. “You know what? I bet they’re cooking food again.”

“This is our chance to escape! We’ve got to get out of here!”

“We’re getting breakfast first!”

I sighed.

We heard a knock on the door. Johnathon opened the door. “I hope the beds were alright… Bethany has breakfast on.”

We followed Johnathon downstairs. Bethany hummed a wicked tune while she stirred up a small feast of bacon, eggs, hash browns, and toast with jelly.

Jessica and I ate our fill. Bethany moved to clear the dishes.

“Bethany, let us get the dishes for you,” Jessica said.

Bethany smiled. “So polite.”

“It’ll be our pleasure,” I said.

Jessica and I started clearing the tables. Jessica washed, and I dried.

“Are you kids going to take off your costumes?” Bethany asked.

Jessica grabbed my hand with a fiercer grip than I would have imagined possible. In fact, she may have broken a bone or two in my hand.

“RUN!” She shouted.

I ran. We both ran.

Werewolf’s Tail

Emily peered into the dark recesses of her school locker seeking out her tattered book of poetry. She simply knew it was in there somewhere, perhaps behind her Unicorn covered notebook.

She felt hands squeeze her breasts and a bulge rub against the crack of her ass. She shrieked and spun around. John let go of her and laughed. Then he walked away. His locker was just seven lockers from hers and had been since the start of high school four years ago. She snarled.

He looked her over. Black dress as always, black eye shadow, black lipstick, and black fingernails adorning pale white fingers. She was the typical Goth chick in his mind.

He turned back to his locker and started working the dial.

Emily decided to make her move. She wanted a date for the homecoming dance, and John the football player would serve. She summoned every last bit of courage, and approached him. She tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to face her. She moved in to kiss him on the lips.

He stepped backwards and hissed. “Don’t do that!”

“Why not? You started it.”

“I wouldn’t want to be seen with you.”

“What? Why not?”

“You’re a Goth chick! I have standards.”

She glared, and then turned away. She went back to her locker and found her book of poetry. She made her way to her ancient Pinto and drove home. After dinner, she and her mom were doing dishes in the kitchen when her mom said, “You know it’s a full moon tonight.”

Emily nodded.

Mom continued, “Well you know how your father gets during the full moon. You should stay at a friend’s house tonight.”

Emily sighed. She didn’t want to spend the night in the woods, and if she called upon any of her few and far between friends, they would freak out when they learned the truth. So, she’d spend the night in the woods like so many other nights over the years.

Emily’s mom could see her resistance, and her mom spoke quietly, “Just be glad this isn’t the dark ages. Be glad you weren’t born male.”

Emily nodded. “I know. I know.”

Emily went to her room. She stripped naked. She put on a red silk robe. She went downstairs. Her dad smiled at her.

“I’m sorry, honey,” he said. “You just don’t know what it’s like for males.”

“I’ve heard this story a thousand times, Dad. I’ll run through the woods. I’ll be fine.”

“Thanks, honey. I’m glad you understand.”

She didn’t understand though. She hated it. She walked out to the back porch and noticed a faint glint of the moon rising on the horizon. She felt a stir in her belly.

* * *

John played football that night. Hell, he more than played, he scored two touchdowns, sacked the quarterback, and intercepted two passes. He played the whole first half and the last quarter. His teammates called him Iron Man for playing offense and defense. His coach reminded him after every game that he’d have to choose offense or defense when he made it to college.

He hadn’t gotten any offers to go to any colleges, but with almost a year of high school left and most of the school’s football season left, there was still time. He’d be on the local 11 o’clock news on two channels for sure.

The buses dropped them off at the school, and he was counting on his sister to pick him up. His sister was a no show. He waited. He stood alone in the parking lot in the moonlight. He knew in his heart his sister was off blowing some hobo or stoned out of her gourd, so he started walking. The path was lit with streetlights all the way home, but nearly three miles. He knew if he cut through the woods it would be closer to two miles, and he knew the way, and he had the moonlight.

He took off in a slow jog.

He made his way down a well-known path when he saw the eyes. Just two eyes that flashed in the moonlight off to the side of his path. He slowed, and stopped. A wolf bigger than any canine John had ever seen stepped directly into his path. Mostly grey except its face which seemed to be painted with strips of black.

“Nice doggy,” John said.

The wolf smiled a canine smile and started wagging its tail. John held his palm out below the animal’s nose, so it could get a good sniff of his scent. The wolf sniffed at his hand. John petted the animal, and it wagged its tail even more. John smiled, and thought to himself, I’m not going to die after all.

The beast bit down viciously on John’s hand, and out of reflex, John smacked it upside the head with his left. The wolf let out a yelp and ran into the woods.

John looked at his hand. It bled bad. He took off his shirt and wrapped it around the puncture holes. He took off in a jog again keeping pressure on his right with his left. By the time he made it home, the shirt was soaked, but the bleeding had mostly stopped. His mom screamed when she saw him.

“Let me see,” his dad said. “Unwrap it.”

John gingerly unraveled the bloodstained shirt from his hand. His dad looked, grabbed his hand, and turned it this way and that. “Wiggle your fingers.”

John wiggled his fingers.

“You need stitches,” Dad said. “You need a Tetanus shot. You likely need Rabies shots.”

“It’s barely a scratch!”

“You’ve never had a Tetanus shot,” Mother said, “so now is as good a time as any. And if a dog bit you it might have rabies. If we could find the dog, we could find out if it has rabies.”

“It was a wolf!”

“You shouldn’t go through the woods!” Dad exclaimed.

“It was my sister’s fault! She was supposed to pick me up.”

His parents nodded. His dad grabbed car keys. “Let’s go, boy.”

“I don’t want to go to the hospital!”

“Quit being a cry baby,” Mom said. “You’d think they intend to cut off your penis. Tetanus is fatal. Rabies is fatal. You need shots.”

John sighed. His dad started making tracks for the garage. John followed. They drove in silence to the hospital. The doctor stitched him up. The doctor gave him two shots that he would rather have not had. The doctor gave him the bright news that he’d have to come in for more rabies shots over the next 28 days unless they found the canine that bit him.

The doctor handed him a white envelope. “Take this before bed tonight.”

“What is it?” John asked.

“Just a little something to help calm your nerves.”

“What is it?”

“Just a five milligram Valium. I’ve seen you play, you’re good.”

“What is Valium?”

“It’s a sedative,” the doc said. “It’s like a little treat. Take it.”

“Keep it, doc. Drugs aren’t treats.”

“Good for you. Your family doctor will likely administer the rest of the Rabies shots.”

“Ok.”

John’s dad was asleep in the waiting room when John emerged. They drove home in silence. John wanted to say so bad, “Why don’t you ever come and watch me play?” He knew the answer though. His dad hated sports. He considered them a waste of time. John should be concerned with a real job, not playing with his friends.

* * *

As the moon set that morning, Emily donned her silk robe and went into the house to take a shower. She was tired, so tired the weariness seemed to creep into the joints between her bones. Her stomach growled its empty growl. She decided the shower could wait and started foraging through the kitchen for food. She ate and ate. She headed towards the stairs and her room, but the couch lured her in with its soft cushions and warm blanket.

School days passed by, and John made no more moves to grope her. Word around the school though was he still didn’t have a date for Homecoming. There were at least four girls ready to put out for him, but he seemed intent to make them fight over him. Perhaps he planned to do them one-by-one. Perhaps he preferred boys. The girls talked and talked about his reasons. None were sure one way or the other though.

A quick month passed, and John found himself walking home through the woods from a football game once again thanks to his whore of a sister. The moon crept up into the sky, and a gut-wrenching tightness descended on John’s insides.

He stumbled to his knees and hands. His back arched in pain as he felt his muscles stretch. His skin started to tingle and then burn as hair grew into a fur coat. His mind started to slip, and he ripped all his clothes off. His hands grew into paws with sharp claws. His arms stretched out as his gut wrenched. He knew hunger. He knew nothing else. He started to run sniffing at the air. He smelled what he knew in his carnal heart to be a rabbit.

He chased down the scent until he found the rabbit. He practically ripped it in two and feasted on all but the bones and fur, and in his fury, he ate some of the bones and fur, too.

He started racing through the woods searching out another rabbit. He saw a squirrel out of the corner of his eye and tried to chase it down. Then he heard a howl in the distance. He ran towards the sound, for it sounded pretty. He saw a grey wolf with black streaks painted on its face. The wolf turned its butt towards John, and John knew in his heart that the other wolf was female. His rod sprung to attention, and he had no choice but to carnally mount the other wolf.

As their bodies separated, the other wolf ran into the woods. John just lay on the ground panting, satiated and hoping for another rabbit. He saw another squirrel and chased it down ripping it to pieces and feasting on the tender flesh and innards.

As the moon set, John’s body and mind wrenched its way back into human form. He was naked, alone, and in the woods. He took off in a run towards home. He jetted past other houses and made his way through the back door of his house. He ran to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. His hands and face were covered in blood. He hopped in the shower.

He stood under the pelting hot shower and pondered his fate. Was he a werewolf? Was he going to turn into a wolf again?

He climbed out of the shower and dried off. He got dressed. He heard his mom shout, “Breakfast!”

He raced downstairs. He ate like a fiend, asking for seconds and then asking for thirds. He looked to his mom and dad. His sister wasn’t around, of course.

“Mom, Dad, remember that wolf that bit me?”

“Of course,” Dad said.

“Last night I turned into a wolf, Dad.”

“What!” Mom howled.

Dad nodded.

“You’re doing drugs!” Mom said.

“I am not!”

“LSD is a bad drug, John,” Dad said. “Don’t ever take it from anyone. Are we clear?”

“I turned into a wolf!”

“You just had a bad acid trip, honey,” Mom said. “It happens if you’re doing drugs.”

John sighed. Then he realized. Maybe somebody did slip him something. He shrugged it off. What are you going to do, he thought.

Monday arrived. John was at his locker. Emily approached him. “Hi, John.”

John turned on her and said, “What do you want?”

Emily smiled at him.

John noticed the makeup again for a second time. Emily was the werewolf.

“So, we’re going out?” Emily asked.

“We’re not going out.”

“What?”

“You’re a Goth chick.”

“I am not!”

“You wear all black,” John said. “You wear black lipstick. Black everything.”

Emily frowned. “I look good in black.”

“I can’t go out with a Goth chick.”

Emily’s eyes narrowed. “You want me to wear a pink miniskirt and matching halter top?”

John smiled. “Yes.”

Slap!

Emily turned and left him to his fate. She knew, without the right concoction of herbs, he would be an uncontrollable monster. He would kill. He would be hunted. He was doomed. She smiled.

* * *
Part II

John’s thoughts began to race between his harsh new reality and the everyday events unfolding before him. His math teacher lectured on the greatness of the cosine function while John’s mind drifted ceaselessly to that bitch of a werewolf, Emily, who bit him and infected him with the lycanthropy. He would turn into a wolf again, and that thought echoed in his head over and over. As the day progressed, the muscles in his neck began to ache from the stiffness caused by his errant thoughts. He walked in a trance to his locker. Emily put a few books in her locker and slammed it closed.

He chased after her. “You gotta help me!”

“Why would I do that?”

“I’m a human being!”

Emily smiled. “Not any more. Now you’re a creature of the night.”

John glared. “If you don’t help me, I swear, everyone in this town, hell, everybody in the state will know you’re a werewolf.”

Emily’s eyes opened wide.

“Help me,” John begged.

Emily smiled. “My dad takes an herbal concoction. It helps him keep his humanity when he changes.”

“What does he take!”

“I don’t know. I take a different herbal mix. I’ll have to ask him.”

“Ask him when you get home. Call me.” He scribbled his number on a piece of paper and handed it to her. She hesitated. Then she took the number and stuck it in her pocket. They caught their separate buses home.

Emily’s house was empty, and that suited her plans perfectly. She went into the basement. She grabbed the shelves just so and pulled a section of wall out of the way. She reached in the secret room and hit a light switch. A thick book sat under a simple incandescent bulb in the center of the alcove. Emily stepped up to the book and paged to the index. She found the remedy to halt the transformations and wrote down the herbs and dosages. She closed the book and resealed the room. She went upstairs to her room and dialed John.

He answered, “Emily! Did you talk to your dad?”

“I talked to Dad, yeah. Here’s what you need to take to stop the transformations.” Then she rattled off the list of ingredients and dosages.

“Thanks a million. I guess you’re not a bad person, even if you are a Goth chick.”

Emily glared. “I’m not a Goth chick!”

“Yeah, yeah. Look, where do I get this stuff?”

“The best herb shop in town is on the south side. It’s called the Willow Connection. It’s on the corner of Elm and 15th street.”

“I’ll Google it!”

John hung up the phone. The computer produced a map, and John quietly approached his sister’s door. He knocked on the door.

“What?” His sister shouted.

“I need a ride, sis.”

“Walk.”

“You know the deal. Mom and Dad pay for your car, and you have to give me a ride if I need a ride.”

“Shitty deal.”

“Come on.”

“What do you need a ride for?” She asked.

“It’s a long story!”

John could hear his sister growl. She opened the door and poked her brother in the chest in a very painful way. “Where?”

“Elm and 15th street. I have a map.”

She didn’t say another word and headed straight for her car. They rode in silence. They pulled up outside the shop, and she snarled, “Hurry.”

“I need a few things. You gotta wait.”

“Hurry.”

John raced in the store. Nearly pitch-black inside, and no signs for anything. A woman wearing a long dark dress smiled a wide bright smile, and spoke in an almost musical tone, “The light will damage the potency of some herbs. Can I help you find anything?”

John nodded. “I need Horny Goat Weed, Cinnamon, and Cayenne.”

The woman tilted her head to the side, and one eye opened wider than the other. Her complexion radiated life and had a smooth flawless nature even though the wrinkles implied she was at least forty if not fifty years old. “This way.”

John followed her down the first aisle.

“That is an interesting combination of herbs you need,” she said. “We have all three, for certain. I can’t directly recall what the combination does, something ancient if my fogged memory serves at all.”

The horn sounded on John’s sister’s car, and John said, “I’m in a hurry.”

The woman grabbed a bottle off one shelf and held it out to John. Then she moved to another aisle and grabbed another bottle. Finally, she went to a refrigerator and withdrew a final bottle.

“How much?” John asked.

The horn sounded again from outside.

“Quickly! What do I owe you? She won’t honk again.”

The woman nodded. “Make it an even twenty.”

John handed over the money and took off in a run for the car.

His sister hit the gas and merged into traffic without bothering to look behind her or even into any of the mirrors. “What’d you get?”

“It’s not important.”

“You used up your one free trip this month, and it wasn’t important.”

“The rule isn’t one free trip a month,” John said. “It’s whenever I need a ride!”

“You’ve got a bike,” she said. “You’ve got perfectly good feet.”

“I swear if you don’t let up, I’ll find your stash and flush it down the toilet.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“I’ll do it.”

She glared at the road and slowly pressed the gas down until other cars flew by like turtles struggling against a strong headwind.

He started taking the pills every day. It eased his mind, if nothing else. Day by day, he could feel a change ever so slowly creeping into his body. He watched the calendar waiting for the full moon. It was due to rise at 7pm, and John went outside to wait.

The moon rose, and John’s body began to twist and contort. He howled, “Stop the transformation my ass!” His fur began to grow and his hands and feet turned into paws. He was the wolf again. He took off in a run towards the woods and freedom. He killed a rabbit and ate it raw. Through the night in simple little stages, he forgot his name, he forgot his family, and he forgot his life. The moon set.

Emily sat on her back porch in her robe, waiting. The wolf stepped into her backyard and eyed her. She smiled at it and whispered, “Come’ere, boy.”

The wolf smiled and walked up to her. She patted it on its head. He sat on his hind legs, wagged his tail, and barked once ever so politely.

“I will call you Benjamin,” Emily said. “I’ll feed you every day. I’ll play catch with you. We’ll go for long runs on the bike trail.”

The wolf barked again.

The Gypsy Camp

Tracy walked up to her sister’s front door and let herself in. Tim vaulted down the stairs shouting, “Aunt Tracy! Aunt Tracy!”

He grabbed her in a hug. Tracy’s sister stepped into the hallway grinning from ear-to-ear.

“You know, Tim, you’re to be good for Aunt Tracy today,” Beth said. “It’s just a short trip to OSU to drop off your cousin’s laptop, and then Tracy is taking you shopping for some new clothes for your birthday yesterday.”

“I know I know.”

“Don’t be running off or nothing!” Beth said.

“I’ll be good!” Tim cried and began running around the room with his arms out like an airplane.

“He’ll be fine,” Tracy said. “I’m going to do what grandmother did to us at his age.”

“What are you going to do to me?” Tim asked; his arms dropping down as he stood still.

Beth looked at Tracy with a wicked grin. “Good, make sure you get the money. You know how they can be. I want my cut.”

“You’ll get your share, sister of mine.”

Tim looked to his mother and then back at his aunt.

Tracy grabbed Tim’s ten-year-old hand and pulled him out of the house. “Come on, Tim. To the bat mobile!”

Tim and Tracy ran to her vintage black Corvette convertible and climbed inside. Tracy gunned the machine to life and started speeding down the road.

“We’re getting at least one video game for my birthday along with clothes, right?” Tim asked.

Tracy laughed violently. “I have bad news for you.”

“Aww.”

Tracy plotted her next move with methodological precision. “You’ve heard of the gypsies in school, haven’t you?”

“Gypsies?”

“They are tribal nomads traveling the earth moving from place to place. They are originally from India, but they migrated through Europe and to North America.”

“Oh,” Tim said.

“They live in camps and have a rich heritage.”

“Ok.”

“After we drop off the laptop at your cousins, we’ll stop and get clothes as promised, and then we’ll stop at a gypsy camp, and I’m selling you to them.”

“What?” Tim asked.

“It’s time we sold you to the gypsies, so you can start earning your keep harvesting in the fields and rooting out weeds.”

“You are not!”

“Harvesting the Jalapeno and Habanero peppers will be the worst of it for you. The spicy oil gets on your hands, and the smell makes your eyes water. Most people can’t help but rub their eyes, and that makes them burn even worse.”

“You lie!”

“Your mother and I were both sold to gypsies as slave labor when we were ten. Parents get one hundred dollars for every year of life of the child. You’re worth a cool grand. Your mother and I stole from travelers and merchants in order to make enough to buy our way out of slavery. You’re a bright kid. I’m sure you can do the same.”

“You did not!”

“We did.”

Tim’s eyes were wide, and he very slowly started shaking his head back and forth.

“It’s not all bad. They’ll feed you well, and they are great cooks.”

Neither said anything for miles and miles as highway raced past them. They parked at OSU and Tracy fished the laptop out of the trunk. They rode the elevator up 16 floors to Jen’s dorm room and knocked. It took a moment before she answered, but when she did, her eyes lit up brilliantly when she saw the laptop. “Oh, mom. Thank you SO much. I can’t believe I forgot my laptop.”

Tracy nodded. “This is why I wanted you to go to school close to home, my dear.”

Jen knelt down to Tim and poked him in the stomach. He giggled.

“And this one is ten now, prime time to sell him off,” Jen said.

Tim cocked his head to the side, mouth gaping wide. His eyes shifted left and right between aunt and cousin.

“Yes, we were thinking the same thing,” Tracy said.

“You’re not going to sell me!”

Jen rolled her eyes. “It isn’t that bad, Tim. You’ll find ingenious ways to make money with the gypsies, and if you scrimp and save, you’ll be able to buy your freedom. And food, oh my god, the food is so good.”

“We have to go,” Tracy said. “We’re buying him his work clothes today.”

“Yes, he’ll need good strong jeans and thick cotton or wool shirts. And boots, those are essential. Oh, and get him a good knife. I was so glad grandma packed a sturdy knife with my things.”

“He’s kind of clumsy. He might cut himself.”

Tim stared at Jen.

“Yes, all boys are clumsy,” Jen said, “but he’ll need a knife for sure.”

“What am I going to need a knife for?”

“To fight off bandits and thieves, Tim,” Tracy said.

“Huh?”

“Enjoy school, Jen. I’ll see you at thanksgiving.”

“Thanks again, Mom.”

Tim seemed rather distracted, so Tracy grabbed his hand and pulled him along to the elevators. They made it back to the Corvette, and they headed south on the interstate.

“You know, after you’ve been with the gypsies,” Tracy said. “They’ll likely teach you how to put a gypsy curse on someone.”

“A curse?”

“Gypsy curses are quite powerful. I’ve seen a man with a gypsy curse lose his leg over it.”

“What?”

“A thief once broke into an old gypsy’s house and stole her life savings. The old woman put such a strong curse on him that they had to amputate below the knee. They call him Pegleg now.”

Tim didn’t say anything, but he seemed lost in thought. The flea market signs started to appear by the side of the road. Tracy pulled the vehicle into a parking space, and they started wandering around. Tracy had Tim try on blue jeans and thick cotton shirts. They purchased a number of articles. Tim carried the bags while Tracy searched the aisles of the flea market moving from booth to booth. Tim trailed behind her burdened by the heavy clothes and work boots. She finally stopped at the booth of a knife seller and began to examine each item with hell-bent eyes.

“There, that one,” she said, “with the bone handle, curved blade, and leather sheath.”

“That’s a nice knife,” the merchant said. “It’s a discontinued model, so it’s on sale.”

“You’re getting me a knife?” Tim asked.

“Jen was right. You’re going to need one.”

Tim whimpered a little quite quietly.

“Selling him to the gypsies, eh?” The seller asked.

“That’s right,” Tracy said. “I want you to throw in a whetstone and oil.”

“My pleasure.”

Tracy paid the thirty-two dollars and stuffed the knife into one of the bags of clothes. The look on Tim’s face was utterly priceless.

“Come on, Tim. To the bat mobile!” Tracy said.

Tim didn’t move.

Tracy grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him along to the car. Once they were moving again, Tracy said, “You’re going to behave when we get to the gypsy camp? You’re not going to make a fuss or run away? I’ll have to take less than a full thousand for you if you give them trouble.”

Tim didn’t say anything.

“You don’t want to give them trouble, Tim. You’re always giving your mother trouble, and that’s no good. You don’t want to mess with the gypsies.”

Tim started to cry. “Please don’t sell me! I’ll be good!”

Tracy laughed and pushed the accelerator down on the Corvette.

Tim tried to wipe the tears out of his eyes, but there were entirely too many.

“We’re not going to sell you,” Tracy said.

“Really?”

“Yes. I was just teasing you. The knife you can keep since your father says you’re old enough.”

“You tricked me!”

“And you got a new knife out of the deal.”

“You shouldn’t trick me like that!”

Tracy smiled as the hand painted sign saying “Gypsy Camp” loomed in the distance. She took the exit and steered the car in the direction the signs pointed.

Moondance

John marked the day on the calendar with a black x. The day after his 83rd birthday. Weary old hands, he thought. His hands were of note because they were marked with wrinkles and age spots. In fact, his whole body bore the marks, but he always promised himself not to regret days spent, even if spent idly. He climbed out of bed and counted his extremities to make sure he still had everything he was born with. The aches were bad in the morning for him, but he took his Aleve and wandered to the bathroom. He had only been up twice in the night to pee anyhow. He climbed in the shower careful to hold the handrails. John summoned his will and forced his hands to scrub soap all over his body, careful to only brush against the few open sores he had.

He dressed, not in completely fresh clothes, but only worn once or twice since being washed. He grabbed his four-legged cane in his good hand, and began the brisk walk to the dining hall. Years ago, they offered to deliver his food directly to his room, but he said, no. Oatmeal, toast, and a single turkey sausage link waited on him in the eatery. They allowed him a quarter teaspoon of brown sugar in his oatmeal since he never acquired any form of diabetes. He eyed the room as he ate.

Miss Taylor, the recreations officer, walked briskly into the room and stapled a pink piece of paper to the bulletin board. Only John called her the recreations officer. Years ago, he reverted to the mentality he possessed as a young man serving the world in World War II. John returned his empty tray to the bins unlike so many of his aged mates, and he rubbed his chin as he walked up to the bulletin board.

The pink flyer quite simply advertised an evening of camaraderie. It said there would be live music and dancing. Three different old folks’ homes were chipping in and renting a hall. Miss Taylor noticed his interest and smiled at him. He glanced at her. She stood up and approached him.

“Will there be liquor?” John asked.

Miss Taylor tilted her head to the side. “What?”

“If there’s going to be live music and dancing, there should be liquor.”

“John, there will be beer from America, and ale from Ireland. I expect they will have whiskey and vodka and every manner of mixable concoction you could imagine.”

John sighed. “No booze?”

Miss Taylor shook her head. “You don’t need booze to have a good time, and didn’t you quit drinking twenty years ago?”

“I drink on and off. Sure, I haven’t touched the stuff in 23 years, but sometimes I get the urge.”

Miss Taylor smiled. “Are you going to dance?”

John winked. “With you? Certainly.”

Miss Taylor glared with wicked pinheads for eyes. “We’re shipping women in from all over town to keep you company, and you want to dance with somebody half your age.”

“Once you reach thirty,” John said, “the goal is always to dance with a girl half your age.”

“So, you’ll attend?”

“What kind of band is it going to be?”

“We got a metal thrasher band. They call themselves Cyclops.”

John glared in turn. “If I wanted to hear lies, I’d watch the television!”

Miss Taylor nodded and smiled. “We got a good band. We spent thousands to rent a hall and have special food prepared. We’re paying them. You’re going to attend. The buses leave at 3pm on the Saturday before Easter.”

* * *

Marianne climbed out of the tub. She almost slipped on the cold floor, but she caught herself with her arm. She put on a fresh clean dress and fixed her strands of grey hair into a bow. She asked herself, makeup? Then her stomach growled and she whispered, “Breakfast.” She walked down the hallway. She grabbed her tray of food and sat at a table with her friends. They had given her half an orange, and she savored every last juicy bite of the fruit.

Jessica, the only black-haired woman in the room, and why she dyed it nobody knew, opened her mouth and whispered, “You know Bill Jenkins had another stroke.”

Samantha nodded. “That man has a stroke every week.”

Marianne simply finished off her cereal. She stared off in the distance wondering if her son would visit her soon. Her son seemed content to visit at random and wait patiently for her to die. Well, in her mind, at 84, she wasn’t due to be dying anytime soon.

Jen spoke very slowly and with a slight stutter, “I had a stroke.”

Marianne patted her on the hand and whispered the Lord’s Prayer.

“You know the fools who run this place plan a dance, on the day before Easter, no less,” Jessica said.

“Dance?” Marianne asked.

“They’re renting a hall and getting a live band. The idiots.”

“I look around this place, and I don’t see any men worth dancing with,” Samantha said.

“No,” Marianne said, “there aren’t any good ones here.”

Jessica pointed towards the outside. “They’re shipping people in from Northbrook Assisted Care and Willow Hospice.”

Samantha shrugged. “There aren’t going to be any good men from those places either. They need to go to the local college and round up some young men for us.”

Marianne smiled. “I wouldn’t know what to do with a college student. I might hurt the poor thing.”

“I know exactly what I’d do with a college student,” Jessica said. “I’ve got handcuffs that I’ve been saving for years.”

Marianne laughed.

* * *

Easter weekend quickly approached. John’s arthritis kept doing a number on his legs, but Miss Taylor convinced him to go out to socialize. He climbed with a grimace into the bus. His hands shook, and he had to remind himself all the women at the dance would be ancient and haggard. They arrived at the hall, and John leaned heavily on his crutch as he wandered the course of the buffet line. A woman caught his eyes for a fleeting moment. She had grey hair and spiderweb wrinkles around her eyes. John’s eyes wandered down to her torso, and she still had breasts. He sat down to eat while the musicians began hauling instruments to the stage.

John ate his roast beef and smiled. The horseradish sauce tasted nearly perfect. He looked over the crowd of aged and infirm. His eyes stopped on the ancient woman with spiderwebs around her eyes. Her eyes were green and shined with vigor darting about from person to person and place to place. They fell on John’s eyes and stayed there. Out of nowhere, she winked at him, and he looked away.

The band finished their setup, and the singer tapped his microphone, “Evening ladies and gents! We’re here to entertain you. I hope at least a few of you have the get up and go to dance! We’ll start with something nice and slow.”

The piano began to play a slow dark tune. The drums whispered along with the melody. A guitar chimed as if from far away. John looked around. For the third time, his eyes fell on the ancient hag with the bright eyes and tangible breasts. She met his eyes, and after a few moments, her eyes narrowed into a grimace, and she frowned.

John sighed. The band played its dire tune. The singer didn’t sing. He simply stood their tapping his feet. The tune’s melody picked up a little bit, and the singer began to slowly chant, “Dance. Dance. Dance.”

No one danced. John remembered the woman’s wink and forgot her frown. He leaned his cane against the table and pushed himself to his feet. He walked over to her table. The women all stared wide eyed.

John held out his hand. “May I have this dance, my lady?”

“Do you fancy yourself a gentleman?” Marianne asked.

“I’d rather be a horny teen.” John smiled. “But alas, I think perhaps I am a gentleman.”

Marianne nodded.

John reached his hand closer to her. “Will you dance?”

“I have an artificial hip.”

“I promise I won’t drop you.”

The woman next to Marianne said, “Go and dance, Marianne.”

John straightened up his body and puffed out his chest like a piece of rock. “Now I know your name, my dear. In the past, I’ve always found that’s half the battle.”

“Are you a warrior?”

“I’m simply tired, and tonight may be my last opportunity to dance with a beautiful woman in this lifetime.”

“So, you expect there’ll be dancing in the next life?”

“I say my prayers.”

The song master on the stage said, “We’re going to be playing for hours. Dance.”

Marianne pushed herself up and approached John. He took her hand in his and kissed it.

“I’m too old for this,” she said.

“If it kills us, so be it,” John said. “I’ve waited long enough for death. If I must die in the hands of a woman, then that would be as good a way as any.”

Marianne smiled. They walked out alone onto the dance floor. The band began to play another slow methodical tune etched with dark notes like a deep red wine. John held Marianne close with a touch of familiarity as if they were old comrades in arms. They stepped in time to the beat of the music as pain wracked their bodies in their joints and muscles. Marianne smiled.

She felt his strong hands on her body. “Were you ever married?”

“What?” John asked.

“It’s a simple question, or are you hard of hearing?”

“No. I never married.”

“That’s ok,” Marianne said. “Marriage isn’t always a good thing.”

“I always hoped to marry, but the girls always said no.”

She squeezed him.

“Don’t do that,” he said.

“Squeeze you?”

“Yes, I could break.”

“You said you were ready to die.”

John laughed. The music stopped. The singer looked over the room. He spoke quietly, “How about something with a beat?”

The crowd laughed.

The music began to play a fiery thumping tune with high notes strung along like links in a chain. Marianne and John stepped up their pace following the beat and both pretending it was 1945. Pain shot through their bodies, but they ignored it and pushed themselves as hard as their frail flesh would allow and then some.

“You dance beautifully,” Marianne said.

“My dear, you’re a beauty like no other.”

Marianne smiled. “Are you trying to get in my pants?”

“If I had to, I could find some Viagra.”

Marianne laughed. “Dear lord, I don’t even know your name.”

“It’s Johnathon Hickle.”

“Can I call you John?”

“Everybody does.”

“I always liked that name.”

“Thank you. Every seventeenth person is named John.”

Marianne laughed so hard she worried about her spleen.

They danced in time to the quick beat of the music, and when it died down, Marianne pushed John away. He closed the distance between them and grabbed her by the waist.

The singer called out, “Any requests?”

“I’m done dancing,” Marianne said. “These tired bones ache and my legs pulse with spikes of pain.”

“It may be our last chance to dance, my dear. If you fall over dead, will it not be worth it?”

Marianne shouted to the stage, “Play Van Morrison’s Moondance.”

The singer smiled wide. The band members began to play. John and Marianne danced. Slowly, the pains began to edge away. The swelling in their joints began to shrink. Their skin began to grow smooth. The marks of age on their bodies evaporated like dew under the heat of a bright sun. Her hair began to bleed blonde until no grey showed. His hair began in spots to turn black. Slowly, as they danced to the beat, they became young again.

The music stopped, and the crowds broke out in applause and howls. John stared into her wrinkleless eyes and kissed her smooth lips. Men and women put their canes and walkers aside and stood up from their tables and approached each other to dance.

Bane Warrior

The Soul Harvester had been at work for at least three weeks, and the body count kept rising. Some friends in the department kept me posted on the situation. I waited for the fateful call from Barrister that they set the bounty. When I get the call, I go to work. The bounty would be big. This Harvester had taken down three cops already. He tore them to pieces. I assumed the Harvester was a male, good odds.

My name is Derek Sawyer, and I used to be a cop. Now I’m known as a Bane Warrior. For all dark magic there is a bane, some are simple, some require a magic spell. There are banes for light magic as well, but the Order does a much better job of keeping those banes secret. The Red Hand, an organized crime syndicate, ancient as recorded history, claims to have dark magic that has no banes. I had yet to see any of it, and the Red Hand sent assassins to take me out twice.

The phone rang, and I smiled. The caller ID showed the prosecutor’s office. That will be my bounty, I thought greedily. I pushed the answer button on the phone. “Barrister?”

“No. Assistant D.A. Brown. There’s a Harvester.”

“Yes, I read the paper, Mr. Brown.”

“We’ve set a bounty. How soon can you bring him in?”

“What’s the bounty?” I asked.

“Fifty grand, alive. How soon?”

Fifty grand would keep me in booze and cigarettes for another year, not that I drank. “I need access to a fresh crime scene, half hour or forty-five minutes within the kill. He’s been hitting mostly public places? Seems to like bars on the south-side?”

“That wasn’t released to the papers.”

“I do more than read the paper, Brown. Why fifty? Usually they’re twenty-five.”

“He took down one of our Bane Warriors this morning. Wasn’t much left of the detective–scraped up as much as we could to bury.”

“Who was it?”

“Jericho.”

“Damn, the fifty grand is for the harvester alive. How much if I kill him?”

“None if you kill him, Sawyer.”

I take some pride in bringing them in alive, but Jericho was my friend. Still, I won’t know until the very end if I need to kill.

Brown interrupted my silence. “It says in your file you spent six years with the Order, and most people that stay that long never leave. Why did you, Sawyer?”

“The Order refuses to take sides. I like to stand and fight.” On that note, I pushed the end call button on the phone and started to mentally prepare a list of all the banes I’d need to lug around. Jericho had been one of the best. I needed to pack the heavy guns. I had a rather expensive custom coat with extra pockets and loops for various rods. Most magic users had something to carry their components with, either a coat, or a satchel with lots of pockets.

Once I had everything stashed in my coat, I locked up the office and headed to my car. I would tell you about the car, but likely you would be jealous. I had a hangout on the south side, a sushi-bar-coffee-house. They had lost their liquor license years ago, but they catered to smokers, and I could drink coffee and snack on wasabi piled high on sushi. I didn’t speed on my way there, no need to. I took a parking spot right in front of the joint and walked inside, taking my usual booth by the door.

A tired old Japanese lady came up to me. “Coffee? California rolls?”

“Yes, both please.”

She nodded and wandered off. I set my cell phone on the table and waited for my coffee and rolls. I wasn’t big on raw fish most of the time, so I went for the California rolls. I just liked having something to pile wasabi and soy sauce on and eat. After a while the old Japanese lady brought me eight rolls and hazelnut coffee, and I proceeded to snack. I lit up a cigarette and tried to relax. This Soul Harvester would be a tough takedown. An hour passed, and another, the sun set in its usual, casual way.

As I went to open a fresh pack of cigarettes, my phone rang. I snaked it up. “Where?”

“Joe’s Pub, on Wayne, you know the place?”

“I’ll be right there.”

I disconnected and threw a twenty down on the table and darted out to my car. Sixteen blocks or so, made in record time. When I had a bounty, I had a license to speed from the city. I hopped out of the car and sprinted into Joe’s Pub; the police at the door waved me on through. They had cleared the bar of civilians. A police Sergeant, named Dawson, saw me and said, “In the men’s room.”

I turned towards the wall with the restrooms and went in. An overweight, white male lay sprawled on the floor in a pool of blood with his throat cut, but with a smile on his face. He had been in bliss. He had been charmed before the Harvester finished him off. I looked around, detectives filled the room, collecting and looking for evidence. I cleared my throat, then, “Leave, all of you.”

I needed a bead on the killer’s aura and having a half dozen humans in the room with me would mean trying to sort them all out. The room emptied, and I started to chant TrueSight, a simple spell for auras and the like. A blue and green mist-like aura filled the room, odd I thought as Soul Harvesters are almost always red and black aura. This guy had once been with the Order. I pulled an inch diameter pearl out of my left pocket and focused on the aura. In my mind’s eye, I could see the killer walking casually down the street about eight blocks away carrying a large bag. I walked out of the bathroom and nodded to the waiting detectives.

I stepped out of the bar and hopped in my car. I punched the accelerator down heading towards the Harvester. After a few blocks, I pulled up next to him and growled. “Hey, you there!”

He turned. A short, pudgy, pale-skinned magic-user, he pointed at himself with his right index finger, as if asking, “Me?”

“Yeah, you.” I slammed the car in park and jumped out of it. The killer looked around himself as if checking to see if he was surrounded.

He smiled. “Watch the pretty lights…”

Just then a spiral of flashing lights emanated from the magic-user’s eyes, a simple charm spell. I am highly immune to charms. I raised my right hand, palm outward, as if to say, “Talk to the hand,” and projected blackness into his eyes.

The killer realized his charm wasn’t going to work, and he turned and bolted down an alleyway. I ran after, shouting, “You don’t want to make me run!”

I am a fast runner. I know how to push my muscles with the aid of magical strength, and I soon caught up to the killer and grabbed him from behind. He howled. He turned and faced me tossing four rocks to the ground and starting a chant. I reached inside my coat and pulled out a silver rod with a rubber grip and started focusing magical energy.

As the Harvester chanted, the rocks grew into humanoid shapes—Rock Demons. They snarled and hissed as they took shape and charged me. I aimed at the left-most one and whacked it on the leg with the silver rod. It created a resonating frequency vibration shattering the Rock Demon. I focused great strength into my hit and swung backhanded at the right one catching it on the head. The head and shoulders shattered, and the body crumbled. A third one came at me in the center, and I brought the rod down on his right shoulder, rending it into two big pieces.

The fourth Demon loomed taller than me and had a look of sheer determination on its gnarled face. I focused my magic and aimed for its knee, but it didn’t shatter. The Demon smiled and reached out for me. I pulled in arcane power from around me and aimed for the midsection, two quick shots, “Whack! Whack!” And the beast turned to pebbles and jagged stones. Simple matter of the second hit the rod still had a resonating frequency, and hitting with a vibrating object creates a significantly stronger vibration.

The Harvester took off in a run again. This time I chased after him and pushed him down to the ground. “You’re coming with me.”

He rolled over and pulled something out of his pocket, a cigarette lighter. He struck fire with it and started a chant to summon a Lava Demon. I snaked my hand into one of my pockets and pulled out a vial of simple water, pulled the plug, and poured it on the ground while simultaneously calling out, “Jacqueline!”

The water from the vial stopped in midair and fine mists started swishing past me from all around towards the water. Jacqueline is a friendly Elemental I knew from when she was still human. She started to take shape as a humanoid statue of water while the Lava Demon rose to its whole height of lava and fire.

Jacqueline smiled. “He’s mine!”

She walked closer to the Demon and put her water hands out in front of her and projected a water stream from them at the Demon. Jacqueline sucked in all the water from the air for blocks around, and it became like a strong wind. The water threw up debris of stone and steam off the Lava Demon. I started to approach the Harvester with one intent, getting close enough to cast a Frost spell on him. Then I could get the choker on him and bind his hands.

The Harvester drew a ninja sword and hissed. “Come and get me, Bane Warrior.”

“Come along quietly, and maybe I can talk them into a life sentence.”

The Harvester charged me, and I pulled a bit of pulverized salt out of my pocket and blew it in his direction while imagining a snowflake and focusing on cold. The Harvester stopped dead in his tracks. I walked up to him and connected a collar to his throat, so he couldn’t incant any more spells. Then I bound his hands behind his back. I looked to Jacqueline and the Lava Demon. Jacqueline had clearly won, and she stood there grinning.

I pulled out my cell-phone and rang headquarters, letting them know I had the Harvester.

Jacqueline walked up to me and put one of her water hands on my cheek. “Still doing good deeds for a living, eh, Derek?”

“This one took out Jericho.”

“And you let him live?”

“I wouldn’t get paid if I killed him.”

“When are you going to find the one who murdered me?” She asked.

“It was the Red Hand, you know that, and I can’t fight an army.”

“You could, Derek, you could.”

Snakes & Gypsies

This story was written for an Ed Davis writing class.

My new friend, Jessica, wanted to go to a Gypsy camp and have our fortunes read. I agreed, largely because I wanted Jessica to transform beyond just a friend, so I’d pretty much do anything she’d want us to do, other than genitalia piercings. None of that for me.

The Gypsy camp was located on a farm just outside of town. Tents, buses, pickup trucks, and minivans littered the fields. Jessica seemed to know where she was going as she led us to a tent with a gold moon painted on it. She stepped inside, and I followed. An ancient woman, with gray hair down to her hips and a toothless grin, sat in a well-worn leather chair. A coal fire burned on a round platform in the center of the tent. Animal skulls hung about strategically. The old hag tossed some sickly-sweet incense into the fire, and a hazy, bluish smoke filled the tent.

“Our fortunes, please,” Jessica said.

I shrugged.

The old woman reached behind her and pulled out a copper bowl. “Twenty dollars each.”

“WHAT!?” I howled.

Jessica rapped her knuckles across my temple real hard. Yes, I’ve learned more than once how hard Jessica can hit. She claimed she studied Ninjutsu, and it’s all about hitting other people’s soft spots with your hard spots. All I knew was it worked. Still, she had this brown and blonde hair cut real short, plus the nicest breasts I’ve ever seen.

Jessica and I each put $20 in the bowl, and the old hag stashed it in a rusty iron chest.

“My name is Myra. Let me see the girl’s hand first.”

Jessica held out her right hand, and Myra began to caress the lines in her palm. Myra spoke in a soft voice. “You’ll live well into your eighties, but your health will start to fail in your sixties. You’ll have two children, but not by the man you’re with.”

“Drat!” I whispered.

The Gypsy woman released Jessica’s hand and reached out for mine.

I provided my hand, and Myra traced along the lines of my palms and fingers. It sent a kind of shiver up and down my spine. Myra whispered something, closed my hand, and pushed it away.

“What?” I asked. And yes, for the record, what is my favorite word.

She closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. “Your future forks too many times to be sure of anything.”

“What a waste of $20!” I said.

Myra’s eyes opened wide. “You want me to lie? Do you want me to tell you about every possible fork and where it leads? I could spend a year talking about all the different forks in your future, and there’s no telling on any one which way you’ll turn.”

“I want my $20 back!”

Myra glared. “No refunds!”

“This is a sham.”

Myra smiled. “You really want your money back?”

“Of course.”

Myra fumbled around in the iron chest. She pulled out a sack of something and the twenty. She dumped the sack onto the fire, and it filled the room with a noxious cloud of yellow smoke. She said a little chant in a language I’d never heard and handed me my twenty.

Jessica and I ran out of the smoke-filled tent. I drove her home. I leaned over to kiss her.

She pulled back and whispered, “No, we’re done.”

“We’re just getting started, baby-doll.”

“No. Myra said we’d never have kids together. Why go any further.”

I tried to nuzzle in close to kiss her and my kiss landed on her shoulder. “Gypsies have been wrong before.”

Jessica opened the door and climbed out. “She put a curse on you, stupid fool.”

She slammed the door shut. I drove home. Curse, my ass.

A few days passed while I hunted for a new woman. You know, going to parks watching for women with big dogs, going to the grocery store at odd hours not buying anything in particular. I would go to bars, but alcohol is poison. Except Long Island Iced Teas, those are mostly iced tea anyhow.

I came home from work one day, and in the space separating my screen door and main door, a snake.

About two to three feet long, brown with tan diamonds running down its back. I ran. Well, in truth, I screamed, then I jumped, then I ran. I made it back to my car and drove to a payphone. One of my friends kept snakes as pets, so I figured I’d call him first. He didn’t answer. So, I had to call another friend. He came over with his camera and six-year-old daughter in tow. The snake was gone when he opened the door though.

“I had to get up from my nap,” the child said. “And there’s no snake.”

Yeah. A snake. And my friend didn’t get any pictures. I’m sure it was the poisonous variety too.

Another week passed, while I stalked different parks and grocery stores. I was on my way to the kitchen for a nice cold beverage, and the faintest of hissing caught my ear. Another snake, this one well over three feet long and solid black, was just chilling on my countertop. I started to back away. It started to move towards me. I ran out of the house. Brilliantly, I forgot my keys but remembered to lock the door. I didn’t even have my wallet on me. Luckily, I’m old friends with a locksmith, and I called him from a neighbor’s house. I’m on good terms with my neighbors. Very important.

My locksmith friend, George, showed up in good time with a toolbox. “There’s a snake inside?”

I nodded.

“I’ll unlock the door,” George said. “But the snake is all you, man.”

“What!”

“Grab a brick, and brain the stupid thing, or are you afraid of a little snake?”

“Of course, I’m afraid of a snake! Snakes kill to eat!”

“You said it was black, right?” George pulled a simple little gun-shaped tool out of his toolbox and inserted it into my door lock. He clicked it a couple of times and twisted it. “You’re unlocked. The only black snakes we get around these parts are constrictors. It’s not poisonous.”

“It’s huge!”

“All the more reason you have to deal with it and not me. Call animal control if you’re that much of a pussy,” George said.

“Thanks for unlocking the door. Got any plans on Saturday?”

“Saturday, hmmm…”

“There’s that new zombie movie. I haven’t seen it yet.”

“I’ve seen it, but I’ll see it again, if you want,” he said. “Matinee on Saturday?”

“Yeah, I’ll call you.”

George winked at me. “Are you going to kill the snake?”

“I’m calling animal control.”

“HAHAHA!”

George left, and I went back to the neighbor’s house to call animal control. They arrived pretty quickly.

Two of them stepped out of the van. One said, “What’s the problem?”

I wondered which one was the comedian. “There’s a big-ass snake in my house.”

“How many feet is a big ass snake? What color is it?” The second man said.

“It’s at least eight feet long, a foot around in the middle, and it sits up like a spitting cobra.”

Both men laughed.

“It’s maybe three feet long. It’s solid black,” I said. “It’s in the kitchen. Ignore the pot plants in the back bedroom.”

Both men glared. One hissed out the words, “If we find pot plants, we’re calling the sheriff.”

“The stuff is entirely medicinal.”

“It’s still illegal in this state.”

“Oh, well, we’re real close to the border with Canada.”

Both men glared at me again. I think they practiced that. “Please get the snake. You won’t find any pot plants.”

“We had better not.”

They bagged the snake then drove off with it.

I didn’t sleep well that night.

In the morning, I ate my typical breakfast of Greek yogurt and cereal. I had work, but not for another hour. I poked around on the internet reading the news. A very low hissing sound grated against my ears. I turned. In the doorway to my den, a slender green snake with red eyes perhaps two feet long lay in the entryway.

I pondered my options while the snake inched its way into the room. I was still barefooted, but I chose flight. As I ran past the snake, it bit me on the foot. I stumbled and fell. The pain was unbelievable. I mean, I could describe it, but you wouldn’t believe me. Honestly though, I don’t have a very high pain threshold.

I crawled to the phone and dialed 911. The snake came after me for another nibble, and I bashed on it with the fireplace poker until it stopped moving. It felt good. I put the carcass in a brown paper sack and went outside to wait for the medics. The ambulance came and took me to the hospital. The doctor wanted to know what kind of snake it was, and I said, “The mean kind!”

“No, what color, did it have any markings.”

I smiled. “I have it with me. It’s in this paper sack.”

The doctor looked in the bag. Then he started punching up websites on the internet. “These aren’t native to this region. Not even to this continent. It’s a Willow Asp, native to India. Relatively poisonous. You could lose your foot or your life, if we don’t treat it.”

“So, give me an anti-venom and send me home.”

The doctor shook his head. “We don’t stock this anti-venom at this hospital. I’m going to have to start calling other hospitals.”

He started making calls. The pain was bad, so I whimpered a lot.

The doctor finally said, “Good, Good. We’ll fly him to you.”

The doctor turned to me. “Ever ride in a helicopter before?”

“No.”

“You’re going to love it!”

They wheeled me to the helicopter, and strapped me in. A paramedic rode with me in the back. We took off. “Willow Asp? Native to India?”

“Apparently.”

“You know India is the ancestral home of Gypsies.”

“What do you know of Gypsies?”

“I have a little Gypsy blood in me,” the paramedic said. “My great grandfather was a Gypsy.”

“What do you know about their curses?”

The paramedic’s face darkened a notch. “You don’t want a Gypsy curse on you.”

“Yes, I’m beginning to understand that.”

“Just have it taken off.”

“How?”

The paramedic pointed at my swollen foot. “It’s all so simple. Find a Gypsy camp, find a seer, and pay a modest fee.”

“How much of a fee?”

“Most will do it for a few hundred bucks.”

“Ha! Screw that. I think I’ll pick up snake hunting as a hobby instead.”

Check out Winter’s Line on Amazon. A story about a young man who becomes a lawman.

Long Day, Long Night

Long Day, Long Night

I originally wrote this for a writing class with Ed Davis.

I’m not crazy. The snake was huge. I answered a knock on my door at 10:13 am, and the snake stood there with a malicious grin on its scaly face. It had a laptop belted around its midsection, and it held a club upright in the end of its tail. I answered the creature’s questions of debt solvency and promised to make further payments. It claimed it needed a blood sample, and before I could protest, it bit me on the arm. The beast slithered off, and I crawled back into bed.

I couldn’t sleep. I watched the picture of friendly wildflowers on the wall as it seemed to flow in and out with the wind. The colors sparkled in the bright rays of the sun. The wildflowers appeared to grow and bloom and then wither. Slowly, in tiny little clicks, it hit me there was no picture of wildflowers on the wall. Centurian is at it again, slipping hallucinogens into the water. I pushed myself out of bed and started to pace the halls. I thought I killed Centurian last time, but my nemesis must have escaped.

The hallways seemed infinite, but in truth they simply turned right over and over until I reached the door to my room again. A few open spaces with chairs and TVs, but mostly the hallways were lined with doors. Doors that were either locked or led to private rooms like mine.

I started watching the news for any clue to what might be happening. Nothing. My eyes started to lose focus as I viewed the television, and I had to avert my gaze. The floor shifted under my weight to the left and right as if I was on a small boat or raft. I tried to ignore the unsafe conditions while making my way through the passageways again, hoping some exit door would be unlocked.

A spider easily an inch big, crawling up the wall, grabbed my attention. Slowly, as I watched, it began to grow bigger and bigger until it was nearly a foot across. Then it popped like a balloon, and the shattered shell of a corpse dropped to the ground. I went to the phone and placed my palm on the reader. A sign above the phone read, “Federal Asylum #12, ext. 205.” A voice chirped, “Good morning, George.”

“Speed dial one,” I said.

The phone dialed, and soon enough my diligent sister appeared in the video.

“Centurian is at it again!”

My sister, Bethany, nodded. “Mmmmhmmm.”

“Boot my computer and feed a water sample into the analyzer.”

“Sure, George, sure.”

A man caught up in a swirl of twisting tobacco smoke looked at me and smiled. “Centurian?”

“Yes!”

The man, drifting in and out of his cloud of noxious fumes, laughed.

“Do you want a sub or pizza this Sunday when we visit?” Bethany said on the video phone.

“Damn it! Are you going to turn the computer on and feed the sample into the analyzer, so that the machine will start crunching on an antidote?”

“Yes, George, I will. Pizza or sub?”

I stopped to think. I had a sub last time. “Pizza.”

The lunch bell sounded, and I hung up the phone. I went to the eating area and palmed the dispenser. A tray of food ejected out of a slot. The food was as bland and tasteless as any food could be, but I had a hard time stomaching it as I kept seeing tiny motions out of the corner of my eye when there was nothing there. The fruit punch dripped with sweetness and sugar, and I had to wonder how healthy such a concoction was. A ferret, easily four feet tall with frazzled, wild hair, approached my table. The ferret wore a tight-fitting white lab coat and high heels. It held out a cupful of pills.

I sighed. “Centurian is loose.”

The ferret smiled. “You know the doors are locked.”

“Yes.”

The ferret pushed the cup of pills under my nose. “Take your medicine.”

I took the offered pills and began pacing the halls plotting my next move. In truth, the doors in this place were locked all the time. Still, there had to be a way out. Something I had forgotten. I paced and paced.

I noticed a sea turtle, and I knew enough to know he was in charge.

The sea turtle had a name tag, “Dr. Naples.” The beast waved at me with one appendage.

I shouted, “Centurian is loose!”

The sea turtle smiled. “Let’s sit down, George.”

The turtle’s reptilian shell shifted under the fluorescent lighting. The individual pieces of his carapace seemed to move and slide along its back as if it were sorting out some puzzle. I sat on a bench. He pointed at me with what I thought was his arm. “You’ve been coming along very well over these last few months.”

I howled, “I never should have retired!”

The turtle nodded.

“You need to release me,” I said with my right fist clenched.

“Oh, not until your treatment is finished, dear boy. As long as you suffer from delusions, your place is here.”

“They aren’t delusions! Centurian is putting hallucinogens in the water supply. I’ve stopped him before.”

The turtle pulled his head partway back into his shell. “Centurian is a myth.”

I snarled. “He’s as real as you or me.”

“Some philosophers would say only one of us is real, young man.”

“I need to get out of this place.”

“In time. I expect over the next few months, if you continue to progress, you’ll be a free man.”

“We don’t have a few months!”

The turtle stood up and took a few steps away. “I have other patients and piles of paperwork I must see to. Has talking with me helped?”

My lips curled into a frown. “No.”

“That’s good.”

I began pacing the halls once again.

William stood in one corner of the room flipping the channels on the television. He lit up a cigarette and smiled at me. He wore red sweatshirt and navy-blue sweatpants. The end of the cigarette seemed to singe the very air with an unholy glow of burning metals.

“Centurian?” William asked.

“Bad news always travels fastest.”

“Is your remote working?”

A streak of brilliance like a wicked thought crossed through my mind, and I spoke aloud in error, “Yes, my remote. I forgot about it altogether.”

I ran for my room. Typing a keycode into my locker, I withdrew my precious remote. I pointed the device at the closed door in my room and pushed play. Nothing happened. I locked the remote back up and lay down drifting off into a rigidly vivid dreamscape plagued by unkillable foes and assassins.

The dinner bell woke me, and I ate with the patience of a man plotting his escape path. I paced the halls trying every door leading to a new level or outside. All remained perfectly secured. I lay down for a while, sliding in and out of a sleep riddled with tales of viruses and chemical agents.

I went for yet another walk. This fine-looking young woman who easily resembled a walrus sat at a table reading a book.

Sitting down across from her, I tried to get her attention. She picked at one of her tusks with her fingernail.

I shivered the words out slowly, “Centurian is back at it.”

The walrus woman nodded her head.

“My remote is broken!”

The walrus shook her head and put her book down.

“You’re one man,” the walrus whispered.

My eyes turned into a steely cold glare, and I whispered, “I’m the best.”

The walrus reached in her pocket and withdrew two AA batteries. Rolling them across the table at me, she grinned wide. Snatching up the batteries, I took off in a run towards my room.

I made sure the door was closed behind me and punched the keycode into my locker. I pulled the battery cover off my remote and tossed the old batteries into the trash can. Feeding the remote the new batteries, I twitched a little bit. Pushing the play button on the remote resulted in the most beautiful metallic click sound one would ever hear. I locked the remote back up. The door opened.

Stepping gingerly into the closet, I climbed onto the rungs in the back wall. The floor in there wasn’t to be trusted. I typed another keycode into a keypad on the wall, and the floor dropped out. I climbed down, and cool air came from below. I reached a landing and touched around for a light switch. The hallway was narrow and poorly lit, yet I made my best possible time.

I pushed one final door open, and the outside air hit me in the face. I took off in a run towards my base. My legs pushed against the ground, and my pulse thumped. I reached a large, multi-story house surrounded by a well-groomed lawn complete with shrubs dotted with tiny red berries. The door was locked, and my hand found its way to the buzzer.

My sister answered, and I stepped inside.

She held out a bottle of aspirin. “George! Your computer said take two aspirin to counter the effects of the hallucinogen in the water supply. It’s been all over the news, too.”

I nodded, walking past her towards the stairs.

She reached out and grabbed my arm. “Take the aspirin.”

I popped two aspirin in my mouth and pounded up the stairs to the top floor. I reached a simple door and opened it. Linen closet. I started grabbing shelves and removing them, discarding their contents into the hallway. Once the closet was empty, I stepped inside and closed the door. Tiny green lights illuminated the space.

Speaking quietly, I said, “My name is George.”

White light filled the closet, and the floor started pushing me upwards to my base. I started noticing the distinct lack of hallucinations. Praying a silent thank you, I stepped through the doorway into my lair. I went to the computer and started tapping into the imagery satellites. I looked at every access point for the water supply. Each one looked untouched. I started to wonder. A quick analysis of the operating system onboard the satellite showed a Trojan process. I tried to clean it, but it was quite malignant. I uploaded a newer version of the satellite operating system and waited.

I had imagery. The computer beeped a warning. Apparently, the Trojan reported activity across the network. My mind snarled as I realized I didn’t have much time. I sorted through the imagery until I found Centurian. He had three cronies with him, and they were dumping drums into the water pipeline at a water tower.

After I donned my fiber armor, my hands instinctively reached for my clubs. The oaken clubs attached at a belt loop and possessed a magnet in the end to keep them steadily attached to my thigh, so I could move freely. I sported four of the 16-inch-long, 42 oz clubs, and my eyes wandered to the stairs leading to my transport. I shook my head and whispered, “I am the one.”

Climbing upwards, I reached the transport on the roof. I twisted the throttle all the way up and turned the wheel in the direction of Centurian. The satellite imagery showed on my console. The cronies waited at the base of the water tower, and Centurian was doing something on top of the tower. I pulled to a stop and jumped out.

I howled, “Arrroooo!” A club materialized in my hand as if by a will of its own. I charged the first of the cronies. My club worked its magic, and the man went down. The second man pulled a gun, but my armor casually deflected the projectile. I clubbed the shooter good.

The third man fell to his knees and shed tears. “Please, mister, don’t hurt me!”

The club flashed three times in the night air, and the man crumpled into a ball on the ground.

Centurian, dressed in royal purple robes and black shoes, smiled at me. “George! I’m ready for you this time!”

Counting how many steps away he stood, my eyes narrowed.

He reached in his robes and withdrew a Mark IV Death Ray. “This weapon will cut through your armor and–

I knew that thing took four seconds to charge, and I whipped my club at the device. The death ray went flying. Centurian’s face bent all out of shape. “You win, George, again. I’ll go along quietly. Call the authorities.”

I advanced on him and beat him some. Not enough for him to suffer any permanent damage, but enough that he was out cold.

I pressed the call button in my armor. Within moments, police transports and hospital evac units arrived.

A Doberman and a German Shepherd approached me from one of the police transports. The Doberman said, “Time to go back, George.”

“No!” I shouted.

The German Shepherd sighed. “You must go back. You have an extremely violent personality, and society must be protected from you.”

“I do not have a violent personality!”

“You just beat four men half to death,” the Doberman said.

“They deserved it! I barely injured them.”

A typical housecat with yellow stripes and a white lab coat approached from one of the medical units.

The Doberman looked at the housecat. “He doesn’t want to go back.”

My grip tightened on my club.

The cat smiled and shook her head. “But, you know, George, they’re having biscuits and gravy for breakfast this morning.”

“Biscuits and gravy!” I chirped.

The Doberman smiled. “With fresh pineapple!”

I tossed my club to the side and jumped into one of the medical transports. “Come on, let’s go, let’s go!”

The cats and dogs smiled. The transport took off, and soon enough we were back at the medical compound. They led me through hallways until we reached the secure double door into my ward. I stepped through the first door, and the walrus, who gave me batteries, stood there smiling. “We’re really having biscuits and gravy?”

The walrus smiled. “Oh, yes, and fresh pineapple.”

I jumped up and clapped my hands. The first security door locked, and the second security door went click. I ran for the kitchen. I put my hand on the tray dispenser. My eyes narrowed as I cataloged the items on my tray. Oatmeal. An orange that had bruises from being kept in a freezer. A plain bagel with no sign of butter or cream cheese. I stuck my finger in the oatmeal: lumpy and lukewarm. I let out a little whimper.

William approached, and he laughed. “What did they promise you this time? French toast with thick cut, hickory bacon?”

“No.”

“What then?” He asked.

“Biscuits and gravy with fresh pineapple.”

William grabbed up his tray. “You know we only have that on Christmas.”

I sat down to eat my food.

William sat with me. He spoke between bites, “What about your remote?”

My food fell to my tray as I raced to my room. My locker opened easily enough. I pulled out the remote and tried it. Nothing happened. I opened the remote to look at the batteries. They were gone. I closed my eyes.

R.A.E.C.E. Genesis is really cool military sci-fi that you need to read on Amazon.