I Run a Ghost Referral Service

mila

Thank you for stopping by.

Before you leave, would you mind filling out the short questionnaire on the desk by the door? I’m always interested in how people hear about me, and my Ghost Referral service.

My name is Truman Dansforth, III. And, your here to ask me how you can meet with a certain ghost. Alrighty then, let’s get down to business. Please take a seat, as I take notes.

“The ghost’s name?”

“Cindy Mayberry.”

“Family member, or lover?”

“Well… my lover, but her life was cut short in a car accident.”

 “I see. And your name?”

“Jake Harriman.”

“I’m going to ask you to relax Jake, as I step outside the room for a moment to check on my poltergeist contacts in the next room. Would you like a drink?”

“No, thank you.

When I walked to my spirit contact center down the hall, I had an odd feeling about Jake. I’m a sensitive guy who picks up vibes all the time. It’s probably why I have such success with ghosts. I’m use to people being nervous when they come in. But Jake had an air about him like a wounded animal on a mission. Hard to explain.

It didn’t take me long to find Cindy Mayberry. She was stuck in the “in-between.” It’s amazing how many ghosts get hung up with earthly issues that weren’t resolved. She was sitting in the front passenger seat of a wrecked Corvette. She seemed glad to see me and knew why I was looking for her.

“Jake’s at my place and would like to talk with you Cindy.”

For a moment, I thought I saw a spark of anger in her eyes, but it passed when she spoke.

“Dear Jake,” she said sarcastically. “Take me to him.”

When we entered the parlor where Jake was waiting, I noticed a sudden coldness in the room.

“Don’t mind me, you two. I’m going to clean the fireplace and build a fire.”

“Cindy! How I miss you!

“I’ll bet you do Jake. Remember how you use to beat me up when you thought I was seeing someone else?

“Hold on! You were seeing someone. I followed you, and saw you get into a blue Corvette with another man three times in the last month.”

“Your insane jealousy was what use to turn me off about you Jake. Did you ever read the newspaper report about my accident? I doubt it, because if you had, you would have known that was my brother Ron. Now look at me!” she cried.

“I just didn’t want to lose you,” Jake moaned.

“Is that why you punctured the brake lines on his car? Investigators ruled that someone sabotaged the Corvette by putting holes in the double-wall steel tubing that led to the front brakes.”

“How was I supposed to know he was your brother?” he whined. 

“You could have asked! But no, you had to assume the worst and kill both of us!”

“I didn’t know you were going for a ride with him that morning.”

What do you want from me Jake?

Forgiveness… I love you Cindy.”

“I have to go now. Come back tomorrow, and we’ll talk about it,” she said, and nodded at me.

I had a roaring fire going in the parlor fireplace when I walked back to the spirit room with her. I could sense her unrest, and a simmering anger. As I wondered if she was going to share her thoughts she spoke up, “Are there any rules about getting revenge while in the “in-between?”

I had to admit that was a good question. I really didn’t think the negative vibes associated with revenge would help her move on to another level, and told her so.

“What about haunting him? He may even like my attention at first. In time however, I’m sure I could arrange for him to drive off a cliff, or something along those lines.”

“You’re still seeking revenge,” I reminded her.

“I prefer to think of it as justice, Truman.” 

The next day Jake returned. He was more upbeat that the day before, and I welcomed him in to my parlor. He looked like a man who got a good nights sleep and was ready to get on with his day.

After some small talk I went to get Cindy. She was waiting for me in a skimpy outfit. Just the opposite of the jeans and blouse she had on the day before (and what she probably was killed wearing).

I expressed surprise. “What’s this?”

“The haunting begins today,” she said sweetly with hellfire in her eyes.

Jake rose from his chair when we came into the room and approached Cindy.

Wow! I mean…you look different.”

” I’ve got good news for you Jake. I’m going to look different every night for the rest of your life. How about that?”

“In outfits like that, I hope,” he answered.

“It’s going to be fun,” she said with a lecherous smile.

“I can’t thank you enough Truman. Here’s you finders fee.

Three weeks later.

I came home late one night after attending a movie premier with a friend, and found Jake sitting on my doorstep. He looked bad. I unlocked the front door and invited him in.

“I’m going crazy! She won’t leave me alone! Day, or night! I just want some peace. Make her go away!

“I’m sorry Jake, but I run a referral service for people to contact ghosts. I don’t give refunds. You need to find a good ghost hunter to solve your problem. I know there’s a couple of guys in town that offer that service. I don’t provide referrals for them, however. I prefer to deal with putting folks together with ghosts. What happens after that…who knows?

“Oh, by the way, you didn’t fill out your questionnaire yesterday. Do you mind terribly doing it now? Wait! What are you doing? Put that gun back! I’ll refund your money and give you a name of a good ghost catcher if you do.”

The sound of gunfire filled the parlor!

As It Stands, contacting loved ones who’ve passed on can be a jarring experience.

The Student That Knew Too Much

7c65520f2f66f0ff07db148626946be0.jpg

 

Wayne Dancer had the uncanny ability to know what people were thinking.

This gift (or curse, depending on how you look at it) became apparent when Wayne was in second grade and asked his teacher why she was always thinking about someone named Dennis? This was an awkward question, because her husband’s name was Bob. She tried to cover up his accuracy at reading her thoughts by laughing at him, and complimenting him on his imagination. She never realized he saw straight through her feeble efforts.

One of the strange things, and there were many, was that he didn’t always have the ability to hear people’s thoughts. It usually came unexpectedly, and went away after a short period of time. Another bizarre aspect to his mind-reading ability was it only happened when he was in school. He was never able to read his parents, or other family members, minds.

The one thing he did learn was not to talk about his strange ability. At first, out of fear people would think he was crazy. But as he got older it dawned on him there were advantages to reading people’s random thoughts. Especially during tests. It helped him get a passing grade more than once.

When he became a freshman his interest in girls was a driving force, powered by raging hormones, and a healthy imagination. He wasn’t a very social person and only had a few friends, that like him, were on the fringes of the high school social set. They existed in a gray area between the popular kids and the outcasts. They could be seen at school events like football games, but never participated in sports.

The new school janitor, Paul Kettles, put a sign out in front of the girl’s bathroom warning people he was inside cleaning. He performed this duty while most kids were in class to avoid embarrassing incidents.

On this day however, he was installing a hidden camera with split views of stalls and the sink area. He done this before at all three of his prior janitorial jobs, in three different states. He never stayed too long, always disappearing before any kind of investigation was launched. His collection of teen girl porn was his pride and joy. He often traded videos with other perverts online, who always praised the quality of his work.

He was finished before the bell rang. Students poured out of their classes into the hallways on campus. Wayne was walking with two friends, a boy and a girl, as they passed the janitor who picked up the sign outside of the girls bathroom, and was wheeling his mop bucket to the storage room, when he heard something in his head that troubled him.

“I wonder what she’ll look like without her pants? I can’t wait to check the camera tomorrow.”

Those words rolled around Wayne’s head like rocks, slamming from one side to the other with jarring implications. He looked back at the janitor who was now at the end of the hallway and unlocking a door. It was harder than usual to stay focused in his English class as his thoughts kept turning back to what he heard.

“What are the names of the two families in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Wayne?” his teacher, Mr. Beltramo, asked.

He struggled with the answer and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “The Hamiltons and the Turners,” he answered hopefully.

“Half right. the Hamiltons and the Trasks. You better pay closer attention young man, there will be a test on this,” his teacher warned.

It was the last class of the day for Wayne, who walked home with his buddy Dewey. He thought about telling Dewey what he suspected, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. The last thing he wanted was for his friend to think he was crazy or something.

The next day at school Wayne saw the janitor pushing a cleaning cart of supplies in the hallway and he slowed down, hoping to hear what he was thinking. He only made out one word in passing, camera. 

Logical deduction told Wayne that the janitor had planted a hidden camera in the girl’s bathroom. His problem was how could he expose what he did without an explanation of how he knew about it? It was a thorny issue, but he knew he had to take some action. He couldn’t just stand by and let the pervert peek at his classmates.

Later that day at lunch he approached a girl he knew since grade school. They were good friends. Not lovers. She was an honor student, involved in student government, and who sometimes worked in the front office as part of a work experience program. Her name was Linda Goleta.

“Working in the office today?” Wayne asked conversationally, as they ate their lunch in the freshman quad.

“I am. Right after lunch actually,” she replied.

“Would you do me a favor?

“Sure. What is it?”

“I know this is going to sound odd, but could you check the new janitor’s personnel file and see where he worked before coming here?”

“What on earth for?”

“I can’t tell you why right now, but I’ll explain everything later. Please. Trust me. You don’t have to take anything. Just write down the names of his prior employers.”

“If anyone else asked me to do that, I’d tell them to take a hike. But since it’s you…I’ll see what I can do,” she said with a smile.

The next day Wayne saw Linda in their math class. She passed him a piece of folded up paper without a word, as they took their seats. The class seemed like it went on forever for Wayne, who was eager to carry out the next part of his plan.

During study hour at the school library he went through the section with maps and phone books for all 50 states. He used the information Linda provided to track down the high schools the janitor worked at. Instead of calling the first high school he looked up, he got the phone number of the local sheriff’s office. He had to call back twice before he got to talk with someone, a bored information officer.

Wayne told her that he was a reporter for his towns local newspaper, The Altooni Monitor, and he wanted to know if she had any peeping tom scandals that might have happened in the local high school in the last five years? He was put on hold for nearly ten minutes before the officer called back and said there were no cases like that in the high school, or anywhere else in town.

It took the third, and final call before he hit paydirt. A detective took his call and said he had a cold case involving a peeping tom at their high school. Wayne asked the detective not to reveal him as a tipster because he thought he knew a man that was doing that right now in his high school. He gave the detective the information – Paul Kettles employment record – with a request that he wouldn’t have to be involved in the bust. The detective was eager to solve his cold case and catch the perp, agreeing to Wayne’s conditions.

It took a week before anything happened. Wayne was in his Science class when students heard a loud popping sound. The teacher told them to get on the ground under their desks. They waited for a long time until someone came into the classroom and said everything was all right. Class was dismissed.

Like the other students, Wayne stopped to stare at the yellow tape stretched out around a small perimeter in front of the storage room. There were still cops and plain clothes detectives milling around. The word was a peeping tom had a camera in the girl’s bathroom and got caught by authorities.

As Wayne stood there staring, Linda came up alongside of him.

“I don’t even want to know how you knew about this,” she whispered in his ear.

As It Stands, silent heroes are still heroes, even if no one knows who they are.

The Taxidermist’s Dream

 

 

bad-taxidermy-3-650x425

Bodie Hank was a taxidermist and an artist with a dark dream.

He dabbled in unorthodox forms of traditional taxidermy such as anthropomorphic mounts and composite mounts where two or more animals were spliced together. When friends and visitors asked him about his odd exhibits, he explained that he was a follower of the Rogue Taxidermy art movement.

His studio, and personal museum, in Cactus, Texas, took up half of the small city’s main street. Everyone in town knew Bodie. Not everyone liked him, but he did have some friends. His artist’s ego was hard to be around unless you did like him. If you could set aside the fact he only wore a worn sleeveless leather vest (that did serve to show off his tattooed torso), and ragged cargo shorts all the time, he was a good conversationalist.

For those that were interested, he explained his art was a form of mixed-media sculpture and not necessarily figurative. It could be abstract and didn’t have to resemble a real animal. Of course, a good part of his work was figurative and done by using the traditional skin-mount method (it paid the bills). His more artistic pieces had a cult following who collected his works.

His dioramas of weasels, squirrels, and Norwegian rats, dressed up and put in scenes like pool halls and factories, were very popular. His attention to detail created an eerie alternate world where things were similar to reality, but just coming short of it. Let’s face it, not too many weasels know how to operate a drill press, or to play pool.

Half of Bodi’s museum was off-limits to the public. The other half was sparingly shown, and then only to a few friends. He kept his most controversial work there, where he used synthetic materials combined with animals to create fantastical creatures. Some standing ten-feet tall. Some were even animated – a new hobby he took up over a year ago and that he was catching on to fast.

He was almost finished with what started out to be a grizzly bear, but now looked more like a mythical werewolf that writers have used to scare readers with for centuries. It was his tallest exhibit to date, at twelve-feet high.

The material he used for the teeth and claws was a synthetic bone he painstakingly carved himself. After going through his marble eyeball inventory, he settled on a pair of pale green orbs that would give the look he wanted. He lengthened the arms and legs by using baling wire and wood and covering them with fur. He was able to keep the original skull and sculpted it using potter’s clay to resemble a traditional looking werewolf.

In order to keep the business running, Bodi had two assistants. They handled the business end; from taking care of the studio and other half of the museum’s sales and shipping, to walk-in customers. Their names were Jack and Gary, and they were brothers. They worked for him for more than a decade, proving themselves trustworthy and hardworking.

They were familiar with the whole museum. Little was kept from them. Only Bodi’s dream. He didn’t share that with anyone. Over the years, his dream seemed to become more intense. His desire to realize the dream began to interfere with his daily activities. He was having trouble staying focused on his projects.

One day, after closing up the studio and museum, Jack and Gary were walking back to their house just outside the city limits. They didn’t have to walk, they had a perfectly good truck, but prefered to walk the two miles for the exercise. They made exceptions when the weather was bad. But this night was cool, and the clear sky twinkled with a million stars. There was no traffic on the road coming and going into town. It was past time for most of the city’s work force to go home. Businesses closed up early in Cactus.

The only places in town, beside the restaurant and the two fast-food joints that were still open, were the two bars. One had exotic dancing with an admission fee. The other was just a bar with two pool tables and a juke box. A burly bouncer threw out an unruly patron into the street from the bar with nude women. His was drunk and mean, but didn’t have enough guts to take on the bouncer who was a foot taller. He staggered to his old Pontiac Firebird, and somehow unlocked the door and got in. He had to sit for a few minutes before his head stopped spinning.

Gary and Jack were getting close to their house and were engaged in a deep conversation when the Pontiac Firebird hit them from behind! It didn’t have its lights on and the men didn’t have a chance. They both flew into the air and came down like rag dolls on the cement road. Dead on impact. The drunk driver from the bar got out and looked at them. He saw they were both dead. Looking around, he didn’t see anyone. Without a word he went back to his car and drove away as fast as he could.

When the news hit the town the next day, Bodi was shocked, stunned, and saddened. Because the brothers had no family that anyone knew of, he handled their legal work and took care of their funerals. The coroner released their bodies to Bodi, who said he was taking them to Abilene where other family members were buried.

But Bodi didn’t take them to Abilene. His desire to fulfil his dream was going to happen. He respected Gary and Jack. Now he would honor them, and make his dream come through.

There was a spot in the secret museum that Bodi had worked on for years. It was replica of an old Western town complete with saloon and jailhouse. It only lacked two things. A pair of gunfighters dueling in the street. When Bodi finished preserving Gary and Jack’s bodies he dressed them up in western outfits, complete with drawn guns and fancy holster rigs. He sighed with satisfaction as he looked at his work.

His dream had come true.

As It Stands, this tale shows how dreams can come true under the right circumstances. No matter how dark they may be.

The Escapist

3-weegee_boy-with-finger-in-his-mouth-in-a-movie-theater-new-york.jpg

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

At ten-years-old, inside a movie theatre in 1945, Alan accidentally discovered how to escape from reality.

He was hunched down in his balcony seat watching Captain Kidd starring Charles Laughton, Randolph Scott and Barbara Britton, and imagining himself as the hero, Adam Mercy (Randolph Scott) throughout the film. It was getting to the end of the movie and the evil Captain Kidd was hanged, and Adam’s honor was restored. Alan grew dizzy for a moment and felt a strange sensation and then he was asking for the hand of Lady Anne in marriage!

There was no way of telling how long he spent in the year 1700. It felt like a lifetime. The usher woke him up while cleaning the balcony. The experience haunted him for weeks. He didn’t dare tell anyone because they’d think he was a kook. The more he thought about his initial guess that it was an unwanted daydream, the less it bothered him. Still, he stayed away from theatres for a year before breaking down and seeing “The Virginian”  starring Joel McCrea, Brian Donlevy, Sonny Tufts, and Barbara Britton, who he had a thing for.

It was only twenty minutes into the movie before Alan felt a familiar strangeness before finding himself in the movie playing Steve Andrews, a friend of The Virginian. Both men were courting Molly Wood (Barbara Britton of course).

Minutes became days as the plot advanced. The Virginian discovered who the local rustlers were. It turns out his friend Alan/Steve is one of the rustlers and is caught along with two other men. As they are being strung up on a makeshift gallows, Alan/Steve pleads with them, “No! You don’t understand! I’m real!” Blackness.

John, Alan’s friend who came to the theatre with him slugged him in the arm, “What’s up with the sleeping? You missed a good movie dork!”

“Guess, I was more tired than I thought. I didn’t get much sleep last night,” he lied. Alan didn’t see another movie until 1968, when his girlfriend talked him into going to a drive-in show. He tried not to think about his last movie in 1946. He was a man now, not some kid with a wild imagination. It was time he proved that to himself.

When Susie told him she loved horror films and wanted to see “The Night of the Living Dead,” Alan broke out into a sweat. They found a parking place in the rear which afforded a little more privacy than being up front. His powder blue, 1964 Chevy Malibu SS convertible, had a comfortable front seat which was ideal for snuggling.

Alan had his arm around Susie when the movie began. The camera followed seven people’s adventures in western Pennsylvania where they all are trapped in a rural farmhouse by an ever-increasing army of the living dead. Susie was pressed up hard against Alan as the black-and-white movie became increasingly intense. The monsters were breaking through and killing people when Alan’s eyes rolled back and he went limp. One of the creatures was chewing on a human arm when Susie realized Alan had passed out. She did what any normal teenage girl would do under the circumstances…she screamed!

Meanwhile, Alan found himself in the farmhouse fighting against an undead creature that was halfway through a boarded up window. The sheer ferocity of the thing was terrifying as it screeched. He looked down on the wooden floor and saw a bloody baseball bat and picked it up. With a powerful swing that would have made Lou Gehrig proud he smashed the thing’s head! Another was right behind. Alan turned and ran to one of the bedrooms. It was locked! When he turned around the monsters had him cornered. He screamed then.

Alan’s mother jumped up from the chair by his hospital bed and tried to soothe him as he shivered in fright. “It’s alright darling,” she cooed, “Your Dad and I are here.” Alan opened his eyes and realized he was not in the rural farmhouse. His relief was obvious. “It’s okay Mom, I was feeling dizzy and kinda passed out. I’m okay now.”

“Why were you dizzy son? his Dad, a cop, asked.

“Not eating,” he lied. “Stomach’s been bothering me for a day now, and I haven’t eaten,” he explained. His Dad still had a skeptical look on his face when he said, “I sure hope it wasn’t drugs. Like LSD, or something.”

“Harold!” his Mom cried. “There’s no need for that. You know our boy doesn’t do drugs,” she defended him. He huffed and excused himself, “Gotta get back to work.”

His mother stayed for another hour until she knew he’d be checking out that day. “I hope you feel better honey. Why don’t you come by and have dinner with Dad and I tonight?” she asked.

“Thanks! I’ll do that,” he reassured her, and laid his head back down on the pillow.

Ten years passed before Alan was confronted with having to go see a movie again. His latest girlfriend, Margie, was a sweetheart, and he thought he might be in love with her. He thought that before with other women, but was wrong every time. Still, it didn’t discourage him. He was a romantic at heart, and hoped for a happy ending.

When she asked him to see a romantic drama called “Days Of Heaven” starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard, and Linda Manz, he agreed. The movie was about two lovers, Bill and Abby, and their adventures in the Texas Panhandle. The couple worked for a wealthy farmer.

At Margie’s insistence, they went to a drive-in movie to see it. Alan comforted himself that this was a love story, or at least that’s what the movie trailers said, and there probably wasn’t any violence involved. Things went well as the two lovers snuggled in the back seat of his new 1978 Dodge Charger.

Then things started to grow dark. Bill encouraged Abby to claim the fortune of the dying farmer by tricking him into a false marriage. Alan’s head was swimming and his eyes rolled back. The next thing he knew he was Abby’s boyfriend Bill. But something even more unexpected happened next, Margie was Abby, and she was smiling at him.

“Wow! This is trippy,” she gushed. “We’re actually in the movie. Let’s see if we can change the plot, she suggested.

“Why not?” Alan agreed.

As It Stands, there are moments when movies and reality collide, and the earth shifts slightly.

The Remorseful Enforcer

thWDP7W7UF

It’s too late for me. As I sit here waiting to be killed, I have to admit, I wish I’d taken up a different calling in life.

Taking lives catches up to you eventually. I knew this, but still became an enforcer for the Genovese Crime Family. My name is Manfredi “Toto” Cafaro. For eight years, I’ve murdered men at Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria’s direction.

I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me. I’m facing poetic justice. No one to blame, but myself that I’m a hunted man. The only reason I’m scribbling this down on scraps of paper is to let my younger brother Louie know what happened to me. He deserves to know what mistakes his big brother made.

Maybe it’ll save him someday from making the same mistakes. It’s worth a shot (pun intended). Not that I think he will. We haven’t talked in too many years. I regret that, but I understand. He didn’t want to have anything to do with the mob, and if I was member, that included me.

To be fair, I didn’t start out as an enforcer. I was a 16-year-old errand boy for Vincent “The Chin” Bellomo, one of Masseria’s lieutenants for nearly four years.

But, because I was so big, six-foot-four-inches tall, and 220 pounds, Vincent introduced me to his collections department. I “visited” people who owed Masseria money. Most of the time there was no problem. My size had a lot to do with that. When people didn’t pay, or cheated the boss, I roughed them up…but stopped short of killing them.

I guess I was pretty good at my job. Good enough for a promotion, according to Masseria, who on my 20th birthday gave me one. It was a gift, he told me. I’d never want for money again. I was to be his new enforcer. Any doubts, or qualms, were quickly buried, as I thanked my boss profusely.

Who knows how many more years I might have had if it wasn’t for an incident that marked the beginning of the end? Here’s what happened.

Frankie Strollo, a cousin of Masseria, and I, got into a fight at a mob nightclub. I don’t even remember what it was about. We were both drinking heavily. I think a woman might have been involved. A waitress.

Anyway, Frankie was a “made-man,” and fought like a tiger! He almost cut my throat with a broken piece of glass, before I got my arm around his neck and snapped it backwards! I remember the screams of horror and the mobsters in the room looking at me, sizing me up. But not going after me.

I knew I couldn’t go back to my luxury apartment. The word was spreading like wildfire, that I killed a “made man” without permission. Worse, it was someone in Masseria’s family. The next day I took a big chance and went to my bank and withdrew all of my money. My life on the run had begun.

It’s not easy to blend into a crowd when you’re as big as I am. I tried staying in New York City, but after three attempts on my life, I went upstate to the Albany area. I didn’t know anyone there, and hoped no one would know me. But you don’t get a reputation like mine, without it spreading around.

I avoided going out during the day. When I did leave my hotel room, I was careful to bring my Colt-Army .45 pistol with me. It gets lonely on the run. After a week of laying so low I felt like a snake, I decided to go to a little nightclub down the street from where I was staying.

It appeared to be a legitimate place with no booze (damn prohibition anyway!), but I pulled one of the waiters over and asked him where the action was. He smiled when I handed him a twenty-dollar bill.

“Go down that hallway,” he pointed, “…and past the Ladies and Gentlemen’s Rooms to the Storage Room. Knock once. Count to ten, and then knock again.”

The back room offered booze, card games, and whores. In no particular order. I sat down at the bar and ordered a whiskey. When I took a sip, I could immediately tell it was rot-gut. Cut with something. I gently told the bartender to bring me a bottle of the good stuff, or I would snap his neck like a toothpick.

He returned with some good Canadian whiskey, and left the bottle in front of me. I was halfway through it when I saw a man slug a woman so hard her head whipped around, and she dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes! The room grew silent as the man looked around, waiting for someone to challenge what he just did. Everyone in the room, except me, looked the other way.

“You got a problem asshole?” he shouted at me.

That was a mistake. I took a good swig from the bottle and stood up.

“Real men don’t slug women like that!” I informed the creep. “Only cowards do!

The minute I saw him reach inside his jacket, I closed quarters with him, catching the hand that was grasping a gun he was drawing from a shoulder holster. The life and death struggle lasted minutes before I twisted his arm and forced the gun out of his hand.

He threw an awkward punch, which I blocked. I hit him square in the jaw with a good right hand, and heard the crunch of bones. He reeled around drunkenly, still cursing me, when I hit him again. He collapsed at my feet. I gave him an extra kick to the head to remember me by. No one in the speakeasy said anything when I left the room with the half-empty bottle of whiskey.

I bring this incident up hoping Louie will not think I’m all bad. I do respect women like our mother – bless her name – taught us. Whenever I see a beggar, I always give some money. I’m not a bully. Really. I’m not. I know what I’ve done in the past, but that was just business. I really like people.

I want Louie to know I’m proud of him for getting out of the neighborhood when he could. I wasn’t that smart.

This page is the last of the hotel stationary paper pad in my room. Hope you can read my sloppy writing. Hold on for a moment!

Just looked out the window and a big black sedan pulled up in the front of the hotel. This looks like it. I see Vincenzo “The Shooter” Gigante from the Gambino Family, and Paul “Big Paulie” Ciccone from the Bonanno Family, getting out of it. They both have Tommy Guns. It looks like a five family affair.

Say a prayer for me Louie.

As It Stands, Manfredi had an angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other. Who ended up with his soul?

The Battle Scavenger’s Story

The_Battle_of_Towton_by_John_Quartley.jpg

Carrig Conchobhar fled his native Ireland just ahead of his pursuers, and the hangman’s noose.

He was a peasant turned highwayman out of necessity. Having violated the rules according to Brehon Law, Ireland’s legal system at the time, he knew that he could expect to have his neck stretched until it snapped like a dry twig.

So he went to Europe, working as a deckhand on a boat for passage. He left the ship when it docked in Normandy, setting out into a foreign land on a quest to make a living. As he walked through the countryside he ate wild fruit and berries, and drank from small streams that crisscrossed the rugged territory. On his third day he met a man, a commoner like himself, who said he was on his way to a great battle.

“Not to fight I take it, judging by your looks and no weapons,” Carrig observed.

“Ain’t yew the clever one,” the man chuckled.

“Why do you travel to such a dangerous place? Battlefields are harvesters of souls.”

“It’s afterwards…when the fighting is over, that I wait to make a harvest of me own. There’s wealthy men lying on the field of death for days sometime. Taking their gold and silver is an easy thing that requires little labor and pays handsomely,” he grinned through a nearly toothless mouth.

“Don’t you fear a penalty if you’re caught? It seems to me looting a battlefield is akin to robbing graves.”

“Aye, but a quick death is better than a slow one watching your family starve to death. We all take chances in life don’t we?” Thomas the commoner, asserted wryly.

Carrig nodded in agreement. The man was right. Being a highwayman was a lot more dangerous than stripping valuables off of corpses. Their conversation died out as the two men made they way through the thick forest. In the distance they heard the screams of men fighting and dying. Then the rain came down so hard they had to take cover under a fallen oak that had been hallowed out by others seeking shelter in the past.

When the downpour stopped in the early morning hours the two men resumed their journey. When they got to the edge of the forest a great plain lay before them. Thousands of dead horses and men were scattered about. They could see campfires still burning on both sides of the battlefield. It meant the fighting would resume that day, Thomas explained.

Carrig and Thomas found comfortable hiding places where they could observe the battle safely. They were both nibbling on scraps of food when they heard a mighty horn blare, and the birds in the trees rose up in surprise. Their eyes turned on the two approaching armies. The English knights powerful steeds broke out in a trot, then a full run towards the French line. The French knights sallied out to meet them from behind their foot soldiers.

The clash of horses, armor, swords, and lances produced a hellish din. In the clouds of dust, men died savagely, fighting until their last breath. When the two armies infantry units collided, the screams of men could be heard for miles.

Finally the French line broke and the English chased the survivors until darkness stopped them. There was only one set of campfires that night and Thomas gave the go-ahead to start looting bodies. Carrig didn’t feel a twinge of guilt peeling the rings and necklaces off of mangled knights. He did keep a sharp eye out for someone who might cause him trouble. Under the light of the moon he could barely make Thomas out, moving among bodies of men and horses like a ghoul.

Carrig was in the process of stripping a jeweled belt off of a white-haired knight who bore the crest of France on his elaborate armor, when he noticed movement to his left. He instinctively hunkered down and watched as a tall shadowy figure moved among the dead, stopping at times to see if life still existed. When he found a man still alive and propped up against his shield, the shadowy figure stopped and bent over him.

At first, Carrig thought it looked like he was listening for a heart beat, but minutes passed and the shadowy figure stood up and wiped his gory lips. He didn’t know what to make of the sight. The figure disappeared in the growing fog.

Weighted down with his loot wrapped in a knight’s cape and in several leather purses, Carrig hurried back to the shelter of the forest, and to the hollowed-out oak he slept under the night before with Thomas. He had found a fine sword that he laid on his lap while he went through the leather purses contents. Suddenly he heard a noise. A minute later Thomas came stumbling toward him with a clay flask in one hand, a large leather bag in the other, and a nobleman’s gold gilded helmet askew on his head.

“A gift from the gods,” Thomas said, slurring his words as he held the clay jar up for inspection. “What a night. I’ve already hidden twice this much,” he picked up the leather bag, “… and with no problems! You’ve brought me luck, good Carrig. This is the first time other looters didn’t beat me to the goods, or take away my findings.”

“I’m glad to hear this,” Carrig said, “but I have a question for you. Did you see a tall thin man dressed in black moving around the battlefield?”

Thomas dropped his clay jar and it shattered on the forest floor. “What was the man doing?” he asked in a rapidly sobering voice.

“I couldn’t really make it out that well, but it looked like he was embracing a live survivor. When he stood straight, I’m sure I saw blood on his lips. Then he disappeared.

“Vampire...” he muttered. “That thing you saw wasn’t a man. He was a count in England once, before being attacked by a vampire as he lay wounded on a distant battlefield. Now he roams battlefields in search of dying men with enough blood left to satisfy his thirst. You’re blessed that he didn’t see you.”

“I wouldn’t say that you greedy fool,” the vampire said, as he appeared before them. “I was just waiting to get both of you scavengers together. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s thieves,” he snarled, showing his sharp fangs.

As It Stands, I’ve always suspected battlefields would be like a delicatessen for vampires.

Joe and the Junkyard Dog

German-Shepherd-101-MWD-Support-Unit-Royal-Army-Veterinary-Corps-RAVCGraeme-Main-Crown-Copyright-MOD2008.jpg

If you’ve a mind, stay a moment and I’ll tell you a story about a lonely man and a vicious dog.

It’s the kind of story that fits this high desert community with its eccentric old-timers and desert rats who live on the outskirts of town; only visiting long enough to get supplies before going back to their self-made shacks near the Panamint Mountain Range. Or, in an area known as Wonder Valley.

Unless you’re a Marine (it’s home to the biggest Marine base in the country), you probably haven’t heard of the city of 29 Palms, California. It has a small civilian population consisting of military families. Then there’s the old families with histories going back a hundred years, when relatives moved there after WWI to take advantage of the high desert’s clean dry air to treat their lungs damaged by mustard gas in Europe.

Most of the businesses in town have connections to those old families. The family that owned the county’s only junkyard, the Mercer’s, had one of the oldest active businesses in the city. Family members belonged to organizations like the local Masons, and the Rotary Club. They were considered important members of the tight-knit little community.

Mercer Wrecking sponsored local events like “Pioneer Days,” and rodeos. They were a normal family with one exception. Percy Mercer who ran the business, had a mean son named Zack, who was a troublemaker that liked to bully people, and who taunted the family dog, a German Shepard named Max, mercilessly for years.

By anyone’s book, Zack was an asshole. When the families old dog died and they got a new puppy, Max, Zack went out of his way to make the dog miserable. Max had the run of the junkyard and was considered extra insurance against thieves. But after years of sustained cruelty heaped on him, Max became vicious and no one could approach him.

He was chained up during the day next to a wrecked hulk that was once a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS. It was gutted and the rusted frame provided little shade for Max when it was in the 100s – which was often in 29 Palms. With no kind human contact, Max lived to bite someone stupid enough to try jumping the gate at night when he was free to roam the junkyard’s perimeter.

The junkyard was a mile east of downtown 29 Palms. It sat like a blight in the middle of the desert with floodlights at night that attracted insects in massive numbers. Roadrunners ran by the perimeter, often crossing Highway 62 and getting run over by half asleep Marines at night, heading back to the base from a weekend pass. Coyotes avoided the junkyard. They were well aware of Max.

If you were to travel further east of the junkyard, on Highway 62, you’d eventually come upon Wonder Valley, home to hermits and desert rats. There was one small community building that served as an informal post office, firehouse, and meeting place. The residents paid for their crude services by holding constant fundraisers. Bar-b-ques and lots of cold beer held the odd community together.

One of the more eccentric residents was Joe Knudsen, a retired US Navy captain who served in Vietnam’s “Brown Water Forces” on the Mekong for two tours. He was wounded twice on his second tour. The most serious wound was a piece of shrapnel embedded in his forehead. Somehow he survived delicate brain surgery and was honorably discharged with a 100 per cent disability rating. It was 1975, and he ran away from human contact as soon as he got back to California. A friend told him about the high desert and its sparse population. It served his purpose. He bought a five-acre parcel and built a shack to live in.

The thing about Joe was he had PTSD, and his brain injury slowed down his reflexes and ability to think clearly. Staying focused became increasingly difficult since he sustained his injuries over 50 years ago. Sometime he would become confused and would wander outside his shack, rambling around the creosote bushes and dry rivers on his land. More than one local resident found him dehydrated and hungry in the middle of nowhere, and took him back to his shack. There were a few old veterans that tried to keep an eye on Joe, but he lived more than a mile from his nearest neighbor. It wasn’t easy. He was as lean as a rail and could walk for miles with little effect other than sweating. At 67-years old, Joe was in remarkable physical shape.

No one ever thought of calling the county, or anyone else, to take him away for his own safety. It was against the code of the desert. Live free. Die free. Not in some nursing home where a man couldn’t see the fantastic sunsets and sunrises the open desert offered daily.

Late one afternoon, Joe had a flashback and wandered out into the desert like a man in a trance. In his mind he was on a recon mission looking for a VC encampment. His feet carried him into the night and he walked along under the full moon searching for an invisible enemy.

When he saw four floodlights bathing a fenced perimeter he crouched down and inched forward. He heard a man drunkenly cursing something as he low-crawled on the desert floor, unmindful of the rough underbrush.

“Damn dog! I’m going to kill you!” someone shouted.

Joe stopped crawling for a moment. He was confused. His consciousness was torn between an alternate reality, and reality. To him, the angry shouts were in Vietnamese. He came to the chain link fence and easily scaled it, landing lightly on his feet inside.

Cautiously he trotted over to a row of piled up old heaps to get a better look. He listened closely, and heard the man’s angry voice again.

“Tried to bite me you son of a bitch!” Zack Mercer screamed. Joe saw him stumble between a row of piled up cars across from him. Zack had a gun in his hand, and a bottle of booze in the other. His arm and leg were bleeding. When someone ran out of the office to confront Zack he shot them! It was one of his cousins that was spending the night at his house.

Max sprang from the shadows and went after Zack who fired his remaining bullets at the charging dog! One of the bullets hit Max’s shoulder and he flipped over howling in pain. Zack was walking up to the wounded dog while clumsily trying to reload his revolver. Something took over Joe who found a rusted tie-rod on the ground and picked it up. He  ran up on Zack from behind and swung the rusted piece of metal at his head. There was a sickening thud and Zack sank to the ground…dead.

Joe moved past him and over to the wounded Max, who was panting in pain and laying on his side. He picked the big dog up like a baby, or wounded comrade, and carried him out of the yard and into the rapidly cooling desert towards his home.

Afterwards, no one in Wonder Valley asked Joe about where he got his new dog, a mild-mannered German Shepard he called “Buddy.” To be sure, Joe wasn’t entirely sure how he found Buddy, but it sure was a boost for one lonely old desert rat.

As It Stands, in a world of blacks and whites, there are gray areas we don’t fully understand and are left to marvel at.