The Gentle Embrace of Death

Louie Marozzi wasn’t part of anyone’s gang.

It’s true that Al Capone, Dion O’Banion, and Bugs Malone all asked him, at one time or the other, to drive trucks for them. But he turned them all down. He wanted to stay independent…no matter the cost.

Not only was Louie an exceptional driver, he was a giant of a man. At six-feet, seven-inches, and 340 pounds, he was a specimen to behold. People thought Big Louie, as many called him, wasn’t too bright.

He seldom spoke and when he did he stumbled over words, going from Italian to American in the same sentence. His appearance, with a dark unibrow and jutting forehead, probably furthered the narrative about his low intelligence.

He was slow to anger. He didn’t drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes. The few friends he had were homeless, and lived on the streets of Chicago. His daily challenge was to stay out of the way of warring gangs.

Louie saw plenty of guys get gunned down in a hail of bullets from a passing car. The gangsters spent as much time killing each other as they did innocent victims. Dead men turned up all the time.

It was that environment that gave Louie his chance to kill people without getting caught. He wasn’t a violent killer, and never used a gun. He preferred to put his victims to sleep in his firm, yet strangely gentle, chokehold.

Unlike some psychopaths, Louie knew it was wrong to kill people. He justified his hobby by killing what he judged were bad men. He tried to keep the murders down to just a couple a week.

With the rate of weekly murders in the streets of Chicago in 1931, two more a week were easily lost in the shifting statistics.

In Louie’s mind he was doing his criminal victims a favor. They probably would have been violently killed by someone else. He was nice enough to make their passing painless and not traumatic.

Even in that violent time and city, there were whispered rumors of a serial strangler stalking the streets. The police, aware of the rumors – and the circumstances involving a string of choking victims – kept their eyes open for a suspect.

One day his friend Leo emerged from the streets, and hunted him down.

“I need your help Louie,” the shriveled old man pleaded.

“Sure Leo.

“A couple of thugs in Bugs Moran’s gang took Angelo this morning! They beat him up and dragged him into one of those big black cars and took off!”

“Why they do that?” Louie asked.

I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s about a briefcase he found in an alley, and they were looking for it.

“You sure Bug’s boy’s did it?”

“Yeah…I happen to know a couple of them. Ran a few errands for ’em.

“I’ll see what I can do come amico.”

As Louie walked back to where his truck was parked, he noticed a couple of thugs loitering around it. The first thing that went through his mind was Angelo convinced them he had the briefcase, in order to stay alive.

The normally calm and composed Louie was slowly melting away, as he watched them from the window of a shop he went inside of. He didn’t like being threatened. He looked at both men closely, memorizing their faces.

There was a rear exit in the shop and Louie took it out to the alley. He knew where the Moran mobsters hung out. There was one location in particular, a house, that he suspected they’d taken Angelo too.

It was a couple of miles away, but that didn’t bother him. He liked a good brisk walk. It helped calm him down. He didn’t want to shed blood. He just wanted to gently put them to sleep in his powerful arms.

He was right about the house. It was on a big lot and fenced in, but Louie had no trouble getting over the fence. As he got closer he heard a muffled scream. Louie sat down and waited for hours until the moon climbed to the top of the sky, before overpowering the sleeping guard on the front porch.

He went through the front door, surprisingly quiet for a man of his size. He took care of the two thugs sleeping in the living room. He went to the cellar door and opened it. He softly descended the stairs.

Another guard was asleep on a chair. Louie wished him sweet dreams and sent him to eternity. Angelo was a bloody pulp. His hands were tied behind him with twine, and he was unconscious.

Louie approached his body on the floor. He was laying sideways. He checked for a pulse and was surprised to find a weak one. He probably wasn’t going to make it from the looks of his smashed skull.

Louie sent him gently into the night.

No one knew what happened at the Bugs Moran gang’s house, because it was engulfed in flames set by Louie that night.

Locals said Moran’s gang never bothered Louie again. Some say it was because Al Capone and his thugs took a lot of Bug’s time just trying to survive.

Other’s say that Louie Marozzi was the most feared and famous killer in Chicago… that the public never heard about.

As It Stands, this tale is a chapter out of the urban lore from Chicago’s “gangster days.”

The Mail Order Bride

Mail order brides were a common occurrence in the Old West, so when Hank told his friend Logan he’d sent for one, they celebrated in the Bucket Of Blood saloon until they were kicked out by the bartender who was closing up.

Logan had married a lady from Boston last year, when she replied to his ad for a bride. Seeing his friend so happy, Hank decided it was time to seek martial bliss himself. It was pretty lonely at the miner’s camp in Big Gulch, Nevada.

He’d saved up money that he earned hunting for meat and furs for the miners, and felt confident that he could support his new wife.

Unlike Logan, who worked hard everyday at the gold mine owned by the Loman Brothers, Hank was a free spirit who didn’t want to be tethered to anyone, or business.

Gold was first discovered in the vicinity of Carlin in Eureka County, Nevada, in the 1870s, and by the time Logan and Hank arrived from Ohio, it was a thriving business in Jackass Junction.

Hank was a good hunter, and the fur that he cured was easily sold to miners. He also made arrangements with other small mining towns like Jackass Junction, to bring them meat in exchange for coffee, tobacco and liquor.

Once he decided to get married he built a log cabin away from the boom town, and filled it with crude wooden furniture he made himself. There was a bed, kitchen table, four chairs, and several wooden shelves on the wall near a wood-fired stove he bought in a 1887 Sears catalogue.

There were still very few women in the area, and when one arrived in town it was a big occasion for the men, who gathered on the street to greet them. As soon as word got out a newcomer was there to meet her husband, most of the men lost interest and went about their business.

Hank purchased a buggy and two roan horses to pull it. When the day came around for his new bride’s arrival, he joined Logan and the other men in town, lingering around at the saloon.

“What’s her name again pard?” Logan asked.

“Annabel Lee,” Hank cheerfully replied.

There conversation was abruptly terminated when someone shouted, “Coach is here! The stagecoach is here!” The men poured out of the saloon like lemmings to get a look at the new arrivals.

It was a bumper crop of brides, with five women inside. Turned out that only two were brides, and the other three were “soiled doves,” to the absolute delight of the women-starved miners.

Annabel Lee stood out from the other sun-tanned women, because she was so pale. She wore a black dress, with a matching hat and veil, and carried an umbrella. Hank couldn’t help notice some men staring at her oddly.

The stagecoach driver was pulling down Annabel Lee’s luggage when Hank approached her timidly.

“Might you be Annabel Lee?

“You are Hank then. You’re much more handsome than in the photo you sent me.” she said matter-of-factly.

Hank blushed under his recently trimmed beard.

“Thankee mamI’ll take care of your luggage.

Hank helped her up to the buggy seat and went after her luggage. Left alone for a moment, she raised her veil slightly…and hissed, as she surveyed the townspeople.

Hank returned after loading her luggage, and hopped nimbly up onto the buggy seat beside her. He took the reins and gently tugged them. The roan’s took off in a steady pace as they headed to the cabin.

After a few cursory questions the conversation died down. Hank had never felt more awkward in all of his life. His only experience was with a prostitute in the nearby boom town of  Hell’s Half-Acre. Once.

When they got to the cabin he helped her down and unhitched the horses. He led them over to a water trough as she stood silently in front of the cabin. After securing both horses near his stallion, he came back and opened the front door.

“C’mon in,” he said with as big a smile as he could muster.

She didn’t comment on any of the furnishings while Hank started a fire in the woodstove.

“Built this place m’sef,” he offered, by way of conversation.

She took off her hat and veil, and appeared paler than before.

“Very talented,” she softly replied. “What else can you do?” she asked coyly.

“Well…I’m a pretty fair hunter, and a decent shot with a Colt .45. Been riding horses since I was five…

She studied his face as he spoke. He seemed like a nice guy. She knew he would provide good cover for her being here.

He was her complete opposite. She was a traveler who had seen many cities in her long lifetime. He was a country boy out of his league right now. She spoke 22 languages. It was apparent to her that he hadn’t even mastered one, with his accent.

She was tired of the east coast, and when she heard about mail order brides it encouraged her to go on another adventure. So, she answered Hanks letters for a proper period of time, and then made arrangements to come out west and get married.

It had been over 30 years since Edgar Allen Poe immortalized her. She, in turn, encouraged him to pursue his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was the last man she lived with for a while.

The intervening years were spent single, roaming the streets of eastern cities in search of new blood supplies. Unlike novice vampires, Annabel Lee had evolved over the centuries to the thing she was now. The sun was no longer fatal to her. Just something to be avoided.

“I just can’t get over what a handsome man you are Hank! Please forgive me. I know I’m being forward and we aren’t married yet.”

Awwww shucks mam. I set it up with the preacher so we could get hitched tomorrow.

“How thoughtful,” she said. “Come here Hank…”

The next morning while they were riding to town, Hank felt an itch on the side of his neck. When he scratched it, he got a little blood on his fingernails. Not overly concerned, his thoughts quickly returned to getting married.

Most of the miners in town were working when they got there. The preacher was waiting in the saloon for them.

“Sorry mam!” the preacher said, “We don’t have us a church yet. This will have to do.”

Annabel Lee smiled sweetly and declared, “Oh, that’s all right reverend. I’m ready to marry this fine man anywhere.”

After the five-minute ceremony the bartender bought the bride and groom a drink. He set two beers down on the bar for them. Hank tossed his beer down without hesitation.

Annabel Lee looked at hers, and then at her new husband, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t drink any kind of alcohol. Not that I mind if you do though. It doesn’t set well with me,” she explained.

Months later, a dozen miners grew so weak they could no longer walk. The local doctor, between bouts with John Barleycorn, had no idea what was wrong with the men. He told anyone who asked that they were sicker than anything he’d ever seen. He knew it wasn’t consumption.

Hank and Logan were having a beer at the saloon one afternoon when Logan asked, “What do you think about what’s happened to those men? I ain’t never seen anything like it. The doc says the same.”

“Not sure pard.

As Hank rode his horse back to the cabin he was troubled. He knew Annabel Lee was sneaking out at night when she thought he was asleep in the wee hours. He decided that he had to find out what was going on that night.

The moon was at its fullest when Annabel Lee stealthily got out of bed. He marveled at how quiet she could be, then rolled off the bed, and pulled his trousers on and his boots. He slipped on a shirt, and leather jacket.

After a slight pause he strapped his gun belt on. One ould never be sure in this wild country.

Hank followed her trail on foot. It wasn’t easy. She barely disturbed the ground she walked on. As a hunter, he learned long ago on how to track prey. As he followed her a growing uneasiness told him this wasn’t normal.

Women didn’t just get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks without telling their husbands. There was something about her that made him uneasy at times. He just couldn’t figure out what it was.

He was lucky to catch a flash of her skirt as it disappeared inside the tent set aside for the twelve sick men. Hank got down on all fours and crawled over to the tent. A candle flickered weakly on a table next to the woman who was asleep in a rocking chair.

A pitcher of water and partial loaf of bread were on the small table. Annabel Lee confidently moved from man-to-man, sucking on their sleeping necks! Hank who was peeking from underneath the tent flap, recoiled back in sheer horror when he saw what she was doing!

The thought of lying next to that monster who was sucking the poor men’s lifeblood away was too much. He was a simple man who knew very little about supernatural things. He heard a few scary yarns growing up in the Ohio Valley.

But nothing like this.

Hank crawled away from the tent until he was near the livery stable. He got up and made a mad dash for it. Inside, he found the preacher snoring loudly and still clasping a bottle of rot gut rye in one hand.

Hank plucked the bottle from his chubby fist and shook him hard, “Wake up! I need you!” he whispered. It took a pail of water and some slapping, but Hank got him to finally wake up.

Sputtering indignantly, the preacher demanded to know why he was so rudely awakened?

“Hush! Keep it down and listen to me. What kind of creature sucks folks blood?

The preacher’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Why do you ask?

“That gal I hitched up with, is sucking men’s blood. That’s why those miners are so sick!”

This time the preacher crossed himself, “Are you sure?”

“Saw it with my own eyes a little bit ago,” Hank assured him.

“She must be a vampire!” he said, and crossed himself again for good measure.

“What in Billy hell is that?

“A demon of the night. They can only be killed by a wooden stake through their black heart, or cutting their head off!” the Preacher explained.

“You mean bullets don’t kill them?”

“I’m afraid not Hank. They also have supernatural strength, so don’t get in no wrestling match with her.”

Hank left the now very sober preacher and went back outside. He got back down to the ground and crawled over to the tent. She was still there, stroking the hair of the sleeping woman.

Careful not to make a noise, he headed back to the cabin as fast as he could. It seemed like he no sooner got there when the front door creaked and she slipped in inside beside him on the bed.

It took all the will power he had to lie still, and wait. It wasn’t long before he could tell from her regular breathing that she was asleep. The predawn quiet seemed sinister as Hank slipped out of the bed.

Without dressing, still in his long johns, Hank went outside to the woodpile and went through a stack of sticks that were trimmed off from his last load of firewood. He picked one that was sturdy and narrow on one end.

With a nearby hatchet he sharpened it. Then he got a hammer from the tools in his small shed. The hunter in Hank kicked in as he went back inside.

Before he chickened out he put the stake over her heart and thrust down! He hit the stake again with the hammer! It was over in a moment. Her body turned to ashes. There wasn’t even a skeleton left.

Horrified and amazed, Hank got dressed and rode into town. He went straight for the saloon and waited until it opened. The bartender shook his head when he opened up the saloon.

“Kinda early Hank.”

Nearly a bottle later, Hank was still standing but reeling awkwardly.

When Logan came in the saloon later that afternoon, after working at the mine, he found Hank three-sheets-to-the-wind. Logan patted his old friend on the shoulder and asked him about married life.

Hank started to say something…but started coughing so hard, he fell down to the ground gasping for air. He finally got air enough to moan, “Never again!”

As It Stands, whose to say a few bloodsuckers didn’t go west back in the day?

In The Dead Of Night

“Your got here just in time.

“Find yourself a comfortable place near the bonfire, because I’m ready to tell a story.”

“My name is Duke Masterson, and I’m the oldest resident in Weston… still able to talk that is. There’s old Charlie Dent, but since he lost his dentures no one can understand him. Truth be told, his memory isn’t as good as mine. 

“Any of you folks from Missouri?

Only one arm went up. The rest of the group was tourists from all over the country. One young couple was busy passing a bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth while keeping their eyes on Duke.

“Just a little history first. One of the things this town has always been proud of was our rich heritage built by beer and whiskey. There was a time, long ago, Weston was a main port for riverboats, but things changed.

I’m proud to tell you we have been drinking quality beer since 1842, when John Georgian built one of the first lager beer breweries in this country. Old John was a German immigrant who brought us a fine old world beer they we still enjoy today.

“Any questions?”

“Yeah! What time does that brewery open tomorrow?” a young man with a baseball cap that said “Booze Hound” asked. A couple of other tourists laughed. Duke waited until the laughter died down.

“I’m back to bragging again about liquor. We’re also home to McCormick Distilling Company, founded in 1856. For you history buffs, it’s the oldest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi River that’s still in operation.

How about this; the Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped not far from here at today’s town hall. Remember reading about William Buffalo Bill Cody? He was a resident here for years.”

“Hey Duke! One of the men sitting on a lawn chair said, “Enough history. We’re here to listen to your story!”

Applause broke out as the group looked at the old man eagerly. Duke managed to muster up a smile. They were right. They wanted to be scared tonight. They wanted ghost tales that would tickle their fears.

He was happy to accommodate them.

“Back in 1840, before we had beer and whiskey industries, most folks were farmers. Hemp was a crop that grew well and exporting rope helped keep the town going. I think I mentioned that riverboats used to come here.

“One day a strange-looking fella got off one of those riverboats and caused quit a stir. He had tattoos all over his body. His bald head was painted blue. He had three negro servants and was wearing silk robes. You can imagine what a sight they made.

“The tattooed man hired someone to haul their baggage over to the old Frontier Hotel where he rented two rooms. Well, it didn’t take long for rumors to circulate about him being a witch doctor and his negroes being zombies.

When a series of strange things started happening around town, people started questioning the tattooed man. All of the cows stopped producing milk and the chickens stopped laying eggs. The owner of the hardware store went nuts and ran down the street frothing at the mouth!

The city fathers got together and held an emergency meeting. They decided that the tattooed man and his negroes were bad medicine. Tempers flared and things sorta got out of hand because they marched over to the hotel and pulled the tattooed man and the negroes out of their rooms.

The next thing you know, they hung them from all from a tree just outside town. Before they slipped the noose over the tattooed man’s neck he cursed them all…and their descendants!

Just before they liberated him from this world, he warned them that their town would become his at night from that moment forward.”

Duke looked at the group to gauge their reactions. They were quiet and subdued.

A wolf howled nearby. The bonfire sputtered and a sudden rush of wind put it out. As the group watched in horror Duke transformed before their bulging eyes. Gone was the old man. A tall tattooed man with a bald head painted blue drew a knife from the sash at his waist.

He roared in rage, and then plunged into the terrified group!

As It Stands, storytelling time in Weston is a hell of an experience!

How An Urban Legend Saved The Earth

Lester was an urban adventurer that thrived in the underbelly of great cities worldwide.

In some ways he was the “Banksy” of modern exploration. Like the artist, he hid his identity, only leaving behind clues that he’d been there. He was a small man, barely five feet-three inches tall, and a 110 pounds soaking wet.

His travels were legendary among explorers worldwide.

He’d explored so far into the depths of the catacombs beneath the Eternal City of Rome, it would take decades before archeologists ran across his mark.

He was the first modern man to explore the hidden underground tunnels and chambers beneath the Giza Plateau. His mark is written on the underground walls of Cappadocia, in Turkey. According to people who have made him an urban legend, he explored all seven levels in one week.

It’s also rumored that he discovered an enormous underground labyrinth in Egypt full of hieroglyphs on endless stone walls. It was said the hieroglyphs contained all of the knowledge of ancient Egypt.

But Lester’s greatest, and most unheralded, achievement was saving the earth.

He was on one of his usual one-man expeditions looking for a secret 5,000-years-old city hidden somewhere beneath Death Valley, when he discovered an underground tunnel in a cave not far from Scotty’s Castle.

The first cave he looked into turned out to be an old mine. There was still a pickax, some drill bits, and a wooden box that looked fairly modern, containing sticks of dynamite. He made a mental note to tell the rangers on his way home.

He didn’t think the second tunnel he went into was very big, but it was 120 degrees outside and the shade in the cave felt good, just stuffy. But as he went further inside he came upon a hole in the ground at a dead-end.

Shinning his flashlight down he could see there was once a wooden rope ladder, but it was badly deteriorated. Undeterred, he pulled out his rope and climbing equipment. It didn’t look like he would have to repel down too far down as he could see the bottom.

Once he was down on the dirt floor he unhooked his harness. The rope and tackle were secured by a steel spike in the floor above. He shined his flashlight down a long dark tunnel and slowly walked into the darkness.

After two hours he was starting to think he was wasting his time, but he knew knowledge never came easily and kept walking. When he saw the first sign on the wall he stopped and studied it with growing excitement.

It looked like a ball with rings around it and was carved into the Borax crystals on the walls. To him it looked like a planet. Excited, he moved on looking for more signs on the walls.

He walked for two more hours before deciding to stop and take a break and eat something. His excitement had worn off and he was hungry. As he bit into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he thought about the marking he saw. Was it a planet?

Feeling refreshed, Lester resumed his search. Twenty minutes later he found another hole. As he stopped and flashed his light down it he saw something metallic. There was a rope ladder which was in much better condition than the first.

He had to make a decision. He didn’t have enough rope to repel down. It was still hanging from where he anchored it. He’d have to climb back up, leave the cave and hike  back to his Volkswagen bus for more rope.

Or, he could take a chance and use the hanging ladder. It didn’t take him long to decide. Adventure was in his DNA. He cautiously climbed down the rope until he came to the bottom and saw he was in a large open cavern with a metallic floor!

It’s shiny floor gleamed in the twilight created by his flashlight. He followed it to another open area where there were rows of metal tubes as far as he could see. He went up to one and saw that it had a little porthole that displayed a yellowish light inside. Then he saw a pale face, and it blinked!

He fell back in surprise and horror!

He’d always explored the secrets of past civilizations with gusto, never dreaming that he might actually run across a civilization that was still viable, and unknown to mankind. He looked in the port-hole again just to see if it was his imagination playing tricks on him.

No such luck. The face was still there and now both eyes were open and staring at him!

Then he felt a tug at his brain and a voice inside his head said, “Let me out. The button is below the glass you’re looking through.”

Lester broke the spell and got the courage to ask, “Do you mean to harm me, or others above us?”

The thing in the tube narrowed its bulging eyes and loudly commanded Lester to let it out!

“It’s our time now! You pitiful earthlings will only be kept alive as slaves to serve us when we take control of this planet!

He grabbed his head in pain as the thing tried to get a foothold in his brain. He staggered backwards, and dropped his flashlight which spun around on the metallic floor sending tiny beams of light throughout the cavern.

It took every bit of Lester’s intestinal fortitude to fight the creature trying to take over his body. Then he broke free, and ran out of the cavern! His mind was fuzzy but he managed to reach the rope ladder.

About half way up it started tearing loose! In sheer panic, Lester scuttled up the rest of the way and laid down on the dirt floor exhausted. He hoped he was far enough away that the creature couldn’t attack him again.

After a few gulps of air to steady himself, he climbed up his rope and reached the top floor of the cave safely. Only adrenaline kept him going as he went back to the first cave and retrieved the box of dynamite.

He knew it was a risky and stupid thing to try, but he had to do something about the creatures in those tubes. He took out two sticks and carefully tucked them into his leather belt before repelling back down to the next floor.

He went to the last hole with the good ladder, and lit both sticks and tossed them down the hole! The explosion filled the cave with dust and the concussion made his ear bleed. Somehow he was still alive.

He crawled back to his rope and used the last of his strength to climb back up. He lay there in the darkness for a while coughing and trying to get his breath. Minutes passed and the dust began settling down enough to see his way out of the cave.

He picked up the wooden box outside and brought it back into the cave. He set it down and pulled out his lighter. He lit one of the sticks and laid it next to the box and staggered out of the cave as fast as he could.

He was surprised that the explosion wasn’t bigger than it was. It still made an impressive tower of dirt and blanked out the sun for a moment. He felt confident that no one else would ever stumble upon the creatures beneath the desert floor.

His only regret was that he forgot to leave his mark down there. Then he smiled, and told himself this was one adventure that wouldn’t contribute to his legend…and that was okay.

As It Stands, this story is for free spirits.

 

Ghost Radio

Listen to the story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

3-2-1…you’re on the air!

“Hello folks! Glad you could make it to my broadcast – The Tom Mahon Hour. We have a lot to talk about tonight, but before we do, I’d like to ask you something; do you believe in ghosts?

The reason I ask, is the production crew has been complaining of some wacky things going on in the studio lately. Things disappearing…and reappearing again somewhere else. Stuff like that.

I’ve got to tell you right now that I don’t believe in ghosts. If you do, call and let me know why, okay?

Let’s move on to the controversies that are currently surrounding our state legislators and crime in the local neighborhoods. Hello caller, this is Tom…what’s your name?”

“Jacob.”

“Okay Jacob, what’s your beef this evening?”

“I want those young hoodlums to quit walking over my grave.”

Pause.

“I’m sorry Jacob, I think we have a bad connection. Did you say someone’s walking over your grave?”

“That’s right! I’m getting sick of it and if it doesn’t stop I’m going to have to resort to haunting them, and the neighborhood!”

“Oh boy…they’re out tonight!” Tom laughed while hanging up on the caller.

“That’s what I like about doing this show, listeners. There’s always something new under the sun…or like in this case, the phone. Stick with me a minute while our sponsors get their messages across this windy night in Chicago.

Tom took the opportunity to see what Dexter, the production’s sound man wanted.

“What’s up Dex?” he asked.

“Someone outside wants to see you.”

“Who?” Tom asked with real interest. This wasn’t a common event.

“He says his name is Jacob.”

Tom froze. “The guy’s a nut. Tell him to leave. Say you’ll call the police.

He hurried back to his swivel chair and flipped the mic on just as the logo music ended for an ad about blood pressure medicine.

“Back again callers! I have a hunch it’s going to be a long night. Going ahead and sip on something good, and share your thoughts. This is Tom Mahon, and I’m listening.”

The next forty minutes went by quickly as people called in to complain about local issues and corrupt politicians.

“I’ll take one more call before calling it a night. Hello, this is Tom.”

“This is Jacob, and I’m not happy with you Tom. That was pretty rude, hanging up on me like that.”

Tom stared at the mic with growing horror. He didn’t like the sound of this guy’s voice.

“I told you, I’m getting tired of people walking over all over my grave. You know that empty lot you live by on Elm street Tom? Well, that’s where I was buried. Things were fine until the developers built your brand new neighborhood around my final resting place. I want it to stop!”

Somehow Tom stammered, “You’re crazy! Leave me alone!” He turned the mic off and sat there ashen faced. His heart was beating so fast he had to take a couple of deep gulps of air.

“Hey Dexter!” he shouted at the sound room. “There’s a caller named Jacob whose crazy…”

“Yeah, I know,” Dexter said. “I was listening you know.

“Don’t ever let him through again!”

Tom was still shaking when he went outside and got into his car. It would be light soon and thoughts of Jacob would dissipate during the day.

When five o’clock rolled around it was time for Tom to go to bed. He started work at midnight. All he needed were six hours of sleep.

He woke up with a start. Someone was pounding on his front door! He slipped his robe on, walked out into the living room and turned the porch light on. Leaving the latch lock in place, he peeked out the opening.

He didn’t see anything at first and started to relax thinking it was just some kid playing a prank. Then he looked down on the porch. There was a pile of foul-smelling dark rich earth spread out covering the tile.

It was 10 o’clock and he decided to stay up. He couldn’t sleep now if he wanted. This was getting out of hand. But how could he tell the police that a pile of dirt was a threat? There was the phone call from the night before. Would it be enough?

By the time he got to work he had a pounding headache. It was clear and cold outside. He welcomed the cup of hot coffee Dexter gave him as soon as he entered.

“Are we doing open mic night again, or do I have a guest tonight?” he asked eagerly.

“No guest. Sorry. It’s open mic again.

Tom sat in his leather swivel chair and held the hot cup of coffee up to his mouth and inhaled the aroma. He took a couple of aspirin and looked over a list of topics his producer, Dan, lined up for him.

The first hour of phone calls went smoothly with some lively topics. Then Tom’s jovial tone stopped abruptly as the caller identified himself as Jacob! He looked over at Dexter with panic and surprise in his eyes. Dexter looked shocked and was shaking his head.

“I’m about to lose my patience with you Tom. You find a way to keep people from walking all over my grave or you’re going to be seeing a lot of me in your dreams! This is your last warning...”

On the way home from work that morning he decided to contact the developer who was, an old classmate, and find out what the status of the open lot was.

That they were friends, was another reason he decided to buy one of his new homes, on the newly named Elm street.

“What’s that status of that empty lot at the end of my street,” Tom asked.

“It’s not a full lot. I’m not sure what to do with it.”

“There’s something you should know Rory. The neighborhood kids have been playing there frequently and there’s been a couple of injuries. At some point some angry parent may try to sue you for damages.

“I had no idea! Thanks for letting me know pal. I’ll get right on that and put up a fence with warning signs. I can’t thank you enough for bringing this to my attention.

Tom left feeling relieved. He hoped the ghost – which he now believed in – would allow time for the fence to go up before haunting him.

True to his word, Rory was at the open lot the following day with a work crew, who put up a solid wooden fence around the lot’s perimeter. No trespassing signs were also posted.

Four nights later. Tom was feeling normal again. His logic was badly bruised by the experience, but he was glad it turned out well. That night on open mic all of his callers were animated, and he was enjoying himself.

“Hello! This is Tom Mahon, how can I help you?”

“My name is Issac, and a friend of mine referred me to you to get some help.”

The skin began to crawl on Tom’s arms, and the hairs on his neck bristled. “What’s your friend’s name?” he reluctantly asked.

“Jacob. He says you can get people to stop walking all over my grave...”

Tom’s scream reverberated across the airwaves…

As It Stands, you never know what you might hear on the radio.

The Shoeshine Boy’s Street Story

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“Shine? I’ll make ya shoes look fine!

The man passed 10-year old Leroy like he wasn’t even there. It was getting dark and soon there would be no chance of making any money. Reluctantly, Leroy folded up his little stand and seat.

He had a long way to walk back to Harlem. He couldn’t afford any kind of transportation. Not even the subway. Every penny he made went to keep his family from starving. His father was dead. His mother who had a terrible case of gout, could barely move on some days.

His three sisters, all older than him, did what they could to help provide funds for a roof over their head, and food. Being black, and poor, almost guaranteed they would never leave the slums of Harlem.

Because of bullies, and territorial gangsters, Leroy was forced to always keep moving where he did business. Some days he walked miles, relocating three or four times out of necessity’s sake.

Leroy learned his way around over the course of several years. He got to know which neighborhoods to avoid, and where it was safe to set up shop. Still, there was always new neighborhoods to explore in his search for money.

It was a new neighborhood where he hit his best payday ever!

All day long, men in dark clothes passed the Funeral Home near where he set up his stand. Many of them wanted a shoeshine. All were quiet and extremely generous, leaving him tips.

He lost track of time until the last shine, when darkness crept up on him like a thief. There were only a couple of street lamps working. Most were dark. Leroy pulled his threadbare coat around his chest tighter and shivered. A cold wind struck up as he starting walking down the street.

He was looking over his shoulder and didn’t see the man until he bumped into him! He immediately dropped his stand and covered up his head, fully expecting to be hit for his impropriety.

When nothing happened, he looked up and saw a tall pale man smiling at him.

“Sorry sir, I….”

“Don’t worry about it boy. We all get in a hurry sometimes, and make mistakes. Could I talk you into shining my shoes right now?

Despite Leroy’s misgivings about the strange-looking man wearing an 18th century coat, he set up his stand under one light that worked.

Fear tiptoed through his head as he dutifully buffed the man’s antique shoes. He knew shoes. He was sure he never saw anything like these ones.

When he was done, Leroy shyly asked if the stranger approved of his job?

The man stroked one end of his long black mustache and nodded agreeably. “Yes, well done boy. Here’s your reward.” He handed Leroy a gold coin. His eyes widened in surprise. The only gold coin he’d ever seen was in a pawn shop.

“Thank you,” he stammered.

“I’ll make a deal with you. Meet me once a month on this same day after dark, and I will continue to pay you with a gold coin. You must never tell anyone about our arrangement however.”

“Yes…” he assured him, “I won’t tell anyone.”

Then the stranger was gone.

After he got home that night he showed his sisters his prize. They were dumbfounded and excited. The next day all four kids went to the pawn shop where their uncle worked. The uncle’s eyes opened wide in surprise after examining the coin.

It was a $4 gold piece called a “Flowering Hair Stella” and was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! The uncle was trembling when he picked up the phone and called an appraiser he knew.

“I’d guess you’ll get somewhere around $200,000 at auction,” the expert said.

All four kids screamed out loud in joy! The uncle was busy figuring out how he could get a cut of this sudden good fortune.

A month later life had changed drastically after they moved into a new house in a nice neighborhood. This sudden life of luxury caused them all to go a bit crazy and they spent most of their money.

Leroy thought about what the stranger said. He unpacked his old clothes which he couldn’t bear to throw away, and put them on. It took him a while to find his shoeshine stand. Someone had put it in attic.

He showed up at the same street where he met the stranger just before dark. The poor lighting caused shadows to undulate along the buildings and pour out into the street. He was looking at the ones across the street when he heard a cough nearby.

“Ahhhhum,” the stranger said, “You’ve returned to shine my shoes, I see.”

“Yes sir,” Leroy meekly agreed.

This time the stranger was more talkative.

“What did you do with the gold coin I gave you” he asked.

“I used it to put a roof over my family’s head, and for food for all of us,” he answered.

“Excellent! Good boy! Here’s your payment for tonight’s work.”

He handed Leroy a gold coin that looked just like the other one.

“In a month then?”

Yes…thank you!

When Leroy returned home that night he showed his sisters the gold coin. Their excitement soon changed to suspicion.

“Where you gettin these coins?” Latasha, his oldest sister asked.

“Told you. I got it for giving a man a shoeshine,” he said sullenly.

The same man?” she queried.

“Maybe...”

“What you mean maybe? C’mon lil man, this is me! Your sissy.”

Leroy began to feel guilty. He loved all of his sisters and he was keeping a big secret from them.

“Yeah…it was from the same man.”

“How did you find him again?” Tisha, his other sister asked.

“Well, that’s easy,” Tonya, the third sister claimed. “He went back to the same neighborhood. Isn’t that right Leroy?

“Yeah.”

The next day all four kids, and their mother, went to an independent coin appraiser to cut the uncle out of this windfall. He proved to be an ass the last time, demanding finders fees.

The coin was put up for auction a month later, and sold for $250,000.

This time, the mother and sisters paid off their accumulated bills, and took the rest and invested it in the stock market. Two days later the stock market crashed on Tuesday, October 24th, 1929!

The following night Leroy kept his appointment with the stranger. Once again the stranger was talkative.

“So, what did you do with the last gold coin I gave you?” 

Leroy hesitated. He hated telling the truth and risking rebuke, but he was an honest kid.

“My family lost it,” he admitted.

The stranger’s eyes darkened in anger. He looked Leroy in the eyes as if reading his mind. His countenance softening when he spoke, “I’m sorry to hear that. Here’s your coin. It’s the last one you’ll get from me. Better luck with this one boy.

Leroy looked down in his hand and saw the same type of coin as the other two. When he looked up the stranger was gone. He stood there for minutes on the sidewalk, watching the fog creep in.

When he got home he hid the coin. He would wait until he was 21 years-old and could lay claim to it without any legal challenges from his family.

As Leroy neared his legal age, he was still shining shoes. He seemed to enjoy the streets however, and started telling fantastic stories that his customers enjoyed. Their favorite story was how Leroy was really rich and was doing this – shining shoes – to pass time.

As It Stands, this was my twist on the generous stranger genre.

The Star Child

Jericho was the only person in town who could see a spook, or spirit as Reverend Ledbetter called them.

No one in Titusville, Kentucky, doubted that Jericho had the ability to see, and communicate with the dead. He was always a strange child that defied description.

For starters, no one ever tried to pick on him in school even though he made an easy target. He never bullied anyone. He tended to be a loner, but spoke with other students and teachers when he had to.

There was something powerful that emanated from Jericho. There was a certainty in his eyes that belied his age. He was neither short, nor tall. He wasn’t stupid, nor was he the top of the class.

He was every man by the time he graduated from high school. He could disappear in crowds effortlessly. Nothing in his features made him stand out.

If not for his ability to see and talk with spirits, Jericho would have gone through life unnoticed.

Instead of leaving tiny Titusville like most of the other kids did when they graduated, Jericho was content to stay in town and scratch out a living as a handyman and carpenter.

He lived with his elderly parents in the house he was born in. The house was located near the downtown district in a small residential area.

One afternoon while Jericho was repairing a neighbor’s fence, an alien from a nearby solar system trying to disguise itself as a restless spirit, approached him with a question, “When shall I go to heaven?

Jericho stopped hammering and turned around to fully face the apparition.

“Never!” he harshly replied, “You’re a fraud!

Surprised to be discovered so easily, the alien took on its true form.

“Perhaps the rumors are true,” the alien said. “Maybe you are the star child.”

I don’t know anything about a star child. The dead choose to talk with me. I’m nothing more than a sympathetic soul bent on leading a quiet life.

“Your modesty humbles me…for a moment. But I’m not here to admire your ability to speak with the dead. I’m here to warn you to stop! My master, Lord Lucan of Antares, doesn’t like it. You’ve been stirring up some lost souls that he’s collected around the solar system and they now believe they have hope.”

“Get out of here, whatever you are! Take your warning and shove it up your master’s ass!”

When the alien left, he went back to work on the fence and finished it before the sun went down. That night as he ate dinner with his parents, he sensed an underlying tension. Like they wanted to tell him something.

After dinner, they all went to the living room. Instead of picking up a book, like he usually did after the evening meal, Jericho’s father said he had a story to tell him.

It started with the fact that he was an orphan. They found him near the wreckage of a small metal capsule in the forest. He was only an infant, so they took him home and raised him.

They agreed that some day they would tell him what they knew – little though it was – when they felt he was ready. One thing that amazed them both was how much he came to resemble a little of each of them in his features.

“This is that day,” his mother spoke up.

“Why today?

“Because our time is running out,” his father explained. “Some alien-looking thing came by today and threatened to kill us if you didn’t stopping talking with the dead.”

Jericho bowed his head for a moment and tried to collect himself. “Who was he? The alien thought he might be someone called the star child.”

His parents watched his confusion with sympathy. Their world was turned upside when they first found him. Now it was being turned upside down again because they raised him. Neither, for even a moment, considered asking him not to communicate with restless spirits.

It was an ability they accepted because of their love for him. Both were ready to die for him now.

“Mom and Dad, would you do me a favor?

They both quickly nodded yes.

“Can you take me back to that place in the forest where you found me?”

There was a slight hesitation before his father said, “I’ll do my best son, but my legs are old and weak. Along with my memory.”

They drove to the edge of the forest. His mother stayed with the pickup truck while his dad picked out a trail and followed it. After an hour they came upon the partly buried capsule. Vegetation had nearly engulfed it.

“Thanks dad. Now you head back before it gets dark.

“Good luck son…if I never see you again.”

When night fell Jericho attempted to do something he’d never done before; summon up a spirit – and not just one – but hundreds! Soon he was surrounded by spirits. He discovered they all weren’t just earthly spirits, but spirits from other races in other planets too!

He looked through the canopy of trees and saw stars twinkling brightly in the heavens. It was like they all were waiting for him to speak. With the support of other alien spirits, Jericho put together a team to stop Lord Lucan’s evil reign.

When it was done he felt pain in his earthly body. It only lasted for a moment before he died and his free spirit was able to assume his destiny as the star child.

As It Stands, this tale was a twist on the superman story.