Vision Quest On Mars

Pa’ah stopped walking and took a seat on a piece of the rubble that once was a great Martian city, and now was only a pitiful ruin.

It had been days since he left the caves. Days since he’d eaten a full meal or drank as much water as wanted. He slipped the pack off his back and set it down in the cracked and blistered soil.

He could hear the Great Leader’s voice in his head.

“You must go out onto the barren surface of our planet in search of a vision.”

He remembered balking at the suggestion and even dared to question the Great Leader, who knew all, saw all, and ran the whole show. The candles in the cave flickered under his growing wrath and Pa’ah changed his tune quickly.

He’d be honored to be the first vision quest seeker to go back to Mars ancient past (above ground), he assured the venerable one.

“Yes…what a great opportunity for me to serve our people,” he humbly said, after dropping to his knees. He was just being stubborn, he told himself.

The thought of wandering around the barren dunes and wastelands of Mars wasn’t very pleasant. But, what if he did come up with a vision on how to save the whole race? He’d be a hero.

He would have to survive first. The rough landscape and rolling dunes went on forever, with very little variation. Some dunes had jagged rocks jutting out of them that formed odd shapes that reminded Pa’ah of the toys he played with as a child. Their spidery silhouettes seemed to dance in the heat and growing shadows.

Dotting the forbidding landscape were ruins of cities that once stood proud in an age of enlightenment. In an age when Martians could freely roam the surface of the planet. In an age when Martians weren’t warlike.

The time came when technology that was used for peaceful purposes became perverted by corrupt Martians who wanted to conquer other worlds. To colonize the universe. To be the masters of the universe.

The resulting war between the worlds nearly destroyed the universe however. Planets like Neptune and Jupiter were obliterated, while others suffered damage that would take generations to repair.

There were no winners. Only losers. The survivors on each remaining planet were thrown back to primitive existences.

Pa’ah reflected on all of this as he shaded his eyes and looked off into the distance. His normally pale skin had turned mahogany in a day. There were patches of red sunburn on his high cheek bones. His normally black hair, was bleached white almost overnight.

The bright sun caused him to squint, narrowing his usual bulging eyes into slits.

The vision came to him the next day while he was walking through what was once a massive arena surrounded by rows of shattered seats sinking into the hot sand.

In the vision

Pa’ah is showing his people how to make space ships. He is the Great Leader now and his knowledge of everything that will take them to another universe to start over in a promised land. To a land of milk and honey.

When Pa’ah finally returned to the cave entrance his supplies were all gone. He was barely able to keep walking, but some inner strength kept him going. He had to share his vision. For the good of all Martians.

When he appeared before the Great Leader and his Council of Twenty-four, Pa’ah was tired and weak, but he didn’t hesitate to speak. He told them that he could guide them in building ships that would take them to  new worlds. This newfound knowledge was branded into his brain he explained.

Sadly, everything Pa’ah said was interrupted by the Great Leader as treason and insanity. He led the people! Not this burnt husk of a Martian who obviously had gone mad in the deserts above.

Because the Martians didn’t believe in killing lunatics, Pa’ah was locked up in a cell. To keep him quiet, his jailors provided him with means to write and draw things. This he did for many years before quietly dying in his sleep one night.

The collected works of Pa’ah were stolen shortly after he died. There was a lot of finger-pointing and accusations, but they never surfaced.

The ritual of vision quests continued, but no one else ever went to the surface again. Not surprisingly…no one has ever had a vision since Pa’ah’s.

But, a Martian did come forth the other day bearing promises of salvation and space ships. For a price!

As It Stands, there are no saints, just survivors.

Night Missions

I hate it when people interrupt me.

It makes me crazy sometimes.

I live alone in a small one-bedroom house in east Los Angeles. I’m retired Marine Gunny Sgt. Alan Todd Singleton. I try like hell to lead a quiet life. I go to the VFW Hall every afternoon for a beer…or two.

Sometimes the language gets salty when too many beers are consumed and a fight breaks out during these afternoon outings. I’ve lost track of how many morons have interrupted my conversations in the last year, and how many tough guys I punched out for the offense.

But, I have to be careful these days because the management is threatening to ban me if I get in another fight. I’ve taken to drinking at the bar now, and not at a table with others. I banter with the old Marine bartender, but avoid getting into any lengthy conversations with him.

The only reason I go to the VFW is to remind myself that I can be sociable. A normal guy. It’s a way to keep in touch with the human race without getting too intimate with anyone. I have too many secrets. Too many things that burden my conscience.

It’s the nights that are really bad for me.

Things happen. Violent things. My memories of my night excursions are almost always vague the next day. A convoluted series of snapshots and conversations. Sometimes I have to clean blood off my arms, face, and clothing – which I usually just burn.

One thing is terrifyingly clear; I hunt humans at night. I never stopped after coming back from my third tour-of-duty in the Nam. That was in 1970, and this is 2018. I’ve lived all over the United States these last few decades.

You can see why I would have to keep moving. Too many deaths in one area over a period of time attracts too much heat. The cops set up taskforces and the pickings get slim. Then it’s time to move.

I’ve managed to last a year here in east LA, but I suspect my time is coming to an end. Maybe forever. Skill and dumb luck will only take a man so far. I’ve beaten the odds thus far. I know that.

Especially after last night. The weird thing is I remember almost everything that happened.

I was walking aimlessly on North Eastern Avenue near the Santa Ana freeway, when three home-boys stepped out of a front-yard and blocked my path on the sidewalk. They laughed and flashed gang signs at me.

I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I never took Spanish in high school.

The volume of their curses rose and they all three pulled out their switchblades – slowly swaying them in front of me. I grabbed the first wrist, twisted it, took the knife, and slashed the gangster’s throat!

It wasn’t like I moved that fast, but I never wasted a move, and immediately grabbed the arm and wrist of the second assailant, twisting and breaking it like a twig. The third attacker lunged, as I threw the second down one down with a judo move.

I moved sidewise and let his momentum carry him by me…off balance. Then I tripped him and watched him hit the concrete sidewalk with a thick thud. His neck was twisted at an odd angle and partly hanging off the curb, when I turned my attention back onto the last remaining attacker.

He was crying and holding his broken arm, and didn’t put up any resistance when I put him in a chokehold and snapped his neck like a dry branch. No one came out of the houses. I was alone with three dead men, and thinking, “Mission accomplished.”

I think it’s time to go. The media is blasting about last night’s murders. Cops are as thick as fleas in my neighborhood this morning. Groups of  angry, and probably scared, gangsters are patrolling the hood…looking for answers. Looking for me.

A week later. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

It was easy finding a VFW chapter with it’s own hall here. Lots of old military farts like me come to retire. Ex-Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force. We all like living in the sun. Keeps our old bones warm.

I wonder if there are any others like me out there that still carry out night missions?

I’ll tell right now…I wouldn’t be surprised if there were. I haven’t met one yet, but it seems like I can’t be the only trained killer in America that continued his craft after leaving the military.

I don’t mean by going to work as a mercenary or glamor bodyguard. I mean regular guys like me that chose to stay out of the limelight…and hunt. Guys who don’t need an audience when they slay their prey.

True hunters, like myself. Think about it.

As It Stands, as a veteran, I’m always exploring issues that deal with the military.

Trouble In No Hope

Folks in No Hope, Kansas, were clannish.

Like many small rural towns across America, everyone knew everyone else’s business. The population had been on a decline for years, and now, in 1933, there was only 1236 residents on the county books.

It was a tough year for everyone. For the second year in a row the U.S. mint didn’t bother making nickels because circulation was so low. Strangers were always passing through town. Most were on their way to California, hoping to get jobs there.

The town mayor, who had gout so bad he sat most of the time, was “Big Bob” Carmody. He knew everyone, and where their skeletons were hidden. He always made a point of having the sheriff urge people to move on when they passed through.

No Hope, unlike other towns, discouraged visitors. It made no attempt at beautification and never held celebrations, regardless of the time of year. There were no children. Most of the people there were “getting on” in age.

Big Bob and the local sheriff, Orville Landletter, were the youngest people in town. Both were in their early 30s. They were the sons of lifetime residents who could trace their family history back to the town’s founding in 1833.

The two men were like brothers, having grown up together in No Hope. Orville’s tall and willowy frame stood in stark contrast to Big Bob’s girth and height. Some folks in town kidded them and said they looked a lot like Laura and Hardy.

There was nothing funny about a recent development in town that shook everyone to the core today however.

Murder. Old man Swenson was found with his neck slashed from ear-to-ear, in a rocking chair in his apartment.

Orville, who never had to deal with anything nearly this bad in his life, stumbled around the apartment looking for clues after the body was taken away. He was having trouble pushing that picture of the terrible wound from his mind. It looked like a hideous mockery of a smile.

There was a well-attended town hall meeting that night. Big Bob did his best to ease people’s fears while Orville stood silently at his side trying to look positive. Not counting himself and Big Bob, that left 1234 suspects.

The meeting lasted long into the night. It was daylight by the time everyone left. Grumbling and afraid.

Two days later, Mary Jane Watkins and her husband James were discovered hanging from the bell tower of the church. Their chests were cut open and still sticky blood soaked their clothing, congealing on the floor below.

Folks pulled out their old revolvers and shotguns and took to carrying them around town after that. Sheriff Orville deputized a half-dozen men and tasked them with finding the killer…or killers.

Three days later when Orville went to the saloon to grab an early stiffening shot of whiskey for the day, he found Sam the bartender laid out on the bar. His eyes were missing and his head was barely connected to his neck!

After that Big Bob warned everyone to travel in pairs and avoid being alone until the killer was caught. County marshals offered their help in investigating the case, but Sheriff Orville politely declined. He could take care of it, but appreciated their offer.

Privately, Big Bob and Orville were baffled. The murders were random. No clues were left behind. No citizen was able to provide any help in solving the senseless slaughters. Doors that were already locked, got padlocks added to them.

For most of his life Benjamin Bottoms was ignored by children and adults. He was born “slow,” folks said to strangers when they asked why he stood there drooling outside the barber shop. Benny was never quite right. He was short, on the stout side, moody, but generally sociable.

Who knows what goes through the mind of a man like Benny? What motivates them? What causes them to act violently? Maybe it was the death of his mother six months ago by natural causes. He was left alone because his father died many years ago when he was younger.

Folks came by to see if he needed anything since her passing. Benny was always grateful, but become reclusive. The visits had slowed down to a stop last month.

A powerful underflow of anger was coursing through Benny’s veins, and the neurons in his brain. Who knows how many days it took before Benny started acting out violently or when he began going into murderous trances?

One thing was for sure; Benny became another person who could kill and then cover it up, before reverting back to his normally placid self.

The murders might have gone on for years, but for a lucky break one night.

While on patrol, Orville saw Benny in the back alley of the general store and called out to him. Benny ignored him, and went inside the back door of the store. Something connected in Orville’s head and he ran toward the open door.

When Orville burst inside he saw the store owner Grant Livingston struggling with Benny who had a hunting knife in his hand! It was apparent old man Livingston was going to lose that battle, and Mrs. Livingston was on the floor unconscious.

Orville pulled out his service revolver, the one that once belonged to his grandfather, and shot Benny in the back twice. Old man Livingston sunk to the floor. Benny turned around and looked at Orville with surprise in his eyes.

He took a step towards Orville, who fired again.

The next day the townsfolk got together and agreed to bury Benny by his parents, even though he was a murderer. He was, after all, one of their own.

As It Stands, call it a case of tribalism gone bad.

Waiting For the Last Train

The little train station depot was located in the middle of nowhere – somewhere between Germany and Switzerland on the wild frontier separating the two countries.

A weathered wooden sign was nailed to the door of the train depot, proclaiming “InterCityExpress.” The whole depot was in poor repair.

There was no one in the ticket office. No lights. Outside, a man sat on a long wooden bench that was once red, but the sun and age had softened it to a pale pink patina.

The light from the lantern next to the man, sent shadows scurrying across the wooden platform, and out into the night. Every now and then, the man whose name was Robert, checked his wristwatch, looked around impatiently, and frowned.

He couldn’t remember how he ended up at this lonely little outpost. Or why he was here. Even more confusing, he felt an urgency to catch a train…but didn’t know when to expect it. He had no idea how long he’d been sitting there like this.

He listened for a train whistle, but only heard wolves howling at the spring moon. The day came and went. Still, Robert waited. That night he heard a train whistle. He waited eagerly for it to come into view.

Air-brakes screeched, and the train slowed down to a complete stop. The smokestack belched plumes of smoke as the engine idled. A conductor came out of the first passenger car and waited for Robert to approach him.  His gray hair was neatly trimmed, as was his handlebar mustache, and he was all business.

“Ticket sir!”

Robert frantically searched his pockets but couldn’t find a ticket. “I seem to have lost it, but I’ll gladly pay cash for my fare right now.” 

“No ticket? Sorry, sir.”

Robert watched in shock as the conductor turned around and boarded the train. The train whistle blew twice, and it steamed into the growing fog that was surrounding the depot. He looked to his right, and left. Baffled. Now what?

“Can you hear me Robert?

He tried to open his eyes but they were too heavy. He was having trouble breathing. His breath came in short rugged gasps. The pain in his chest intensified.

“It’s going to be…” the voice trailed off.

He was sitting on the bench again. Looking. Waiting. Listening. He stood up and walked out to the train track and looked up at the stars. They glittered like diamonds. A wolf’s mating call hung in the night…waiting for a response.

Was he having a nightmare? The longest and worst nightmare of his thirty-four years of existence? In his mind’s eye he saw images. A terrible car wreck. Bodies being pulled from two cars by first responders. Red lights flashing. Blood.

He wondered why he wasn’t hungry. He’d been waiting for days without food or water. Part of him knew that couldn’t continue. He’d die if he didn’t eat or drink…right? There had to be an explanation.

“Is he going to make it?”

Robert’s ears perked up. Was his train coming at last? He heard the faint faraway whistle with eagerness. Maybe it was his time. He sat back down on the bench and looked at his wristwatch. The cool night air caressed him as he tried to be patient.

“I’m sorry…his heart just gave up.” the doctor told Robert’s wife.

Somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, Robert found his ticket and handed it to the conductor, who invited him aboard. The last train had finally arrived for Robert.

As It Stands, there’s a twilight existence between life and death, where train’s run on time and people wait for their fate.

The Imposter

London, 1828 –

The Fraternal Brotherhood of Resurrectionists

Vernon Barker sat in the rear of the dark and dank room, listening to the impassioned speaker up front. His mind was wandering however.

He was thinking about when he decided to write a book about grave robbers. The idea seemed exciting. Adventurous. He’d go under cover for a year and write a blockbuster expose on stealing human corpses.

That was two years ago. And now, here he was. Locked up in a lunatic asylum.

Vernon started out as a grave digger. It wasn’t too bad, because all he had to do was dig the body up – fill in the hole – and two other men came and took it from there. The bodies were going to medical schools, he was told.

As time went by he moved up to transporting corpses to the hospitals. He liked talking with the doctors who were always surprised to find out that he could read and write. It was an unusual set of skills for a common grave robber – or “Resurrectionist” as they were otherwise known at the time.

In general, most authorities at the time didn’t worry too much about the practice of stealing bodies. The medical community lent a certain respectability to it. Forwarding medical science, and all that good stuff.

The resurrectionists made sure not to steal anything such as jewelry or fine clothing as this would have caused them to be liable for felony charges.

The resurrectionists were a tight-knit community with many strange beliefs. They also had a rough code of honor not adhered to by all of the other grave robbers in the city. They had a tier system where a man could rise through the ranks, and become privy to the organization’s biggest secrets.

The grand master of the group, Giles de Morta, always appeared wearing a plain black opera mask. His real identity was only known to the inner circle.

Vernon slowly worked his way through the levels, as he carried out his masters commands. He was no longer an apprentice. His diligence and hard work were paying off. He just had one more level to go until he reached the top, and got access to the groups’ greatest secrets.

The greatest risk that he took was keeping notes. He needed to write things down for future reference. His memory wasn’t enough. He was fully aware of the risk he took if it was discovered. He shuddered to think about it, but held to his course.

The group always met in the tunnels and catacombs beneath the city streets. There were miles of these tunnels stretching out and going down deep into the earth’s bowels. It was easy to get lost if you didn’t live there for years with the guidance of the brotherhood.

Authorities seldom ventured into their kingdom.

Quite by chance one day, Vernon stumbled upon something that rocked his entire world!

He was going through a different sector to save time getting back to a meeting when he heard odd guttural sounds. The came from a room to his left. To his utter horror, a small group of five men were standing around a corpse and slicing pieces off it!

“A feast for the gods!” the Grand Master in his black opera mask chanted, after chewing on the hunk of human flesh in his hand.

“For the gods!” the other men chanted several times between loathsome bites.

He backed out of the room almost immediately, praying no one saw him. They were all chanting loudly in a growing frenzy as he fled down the tunnels in mindless terror and got lost.

He wandered for days, fearing for his life. He didn’t know for sure if one of the men – or more like one of the ghouls – saw his shocked face. As he sat down on a sewer curb to rest he suddenly realized his notebook wasn’t inside his jacket pocket!

Sheer panic gripped him for a moment! His breath came in short gasps as he thought about what would happen if one of the brothers found it. All of his careful observations – and worse yet his thoughts and plans – were laid out in that small notebook.

He noticed a ray of light coming from a sewer grate up ahead. He could go topside and figure out where he was when he surfaced. Vernon was tired and hungry as he headed for the light.

Once back on the familiar cobblestones that led to his small flat, he dared to breathe a small sigh of relief. He went straight to a pub and ordered a beer. It landed like lead on his empty stomach and he was forced to go to the back alley and vomit there among the trash.

People came and went in the alley, laughing and talking, not even noticing Vernon bent over and groaning pitifully. When his stomach settled enough to stand, he headed for his flat, buying a loaf of bread along the way.

When he woke up the next morning he was shocked to see his diary on the lone table in his room. There was a piece of crisp white paper with the word “Imposter!” on it, tucked between the pages. He tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry.

The brotherhood was on to him! So why was he spared when the notebook and note were delivered? He was an easy target sleeping on his mangled mattress. It became apparent to him why he wasn’t dead yet as the days passed by.

They were playing with him. Mocking him. One day when he least expected it, they would kill him. He needed a safe haven. That’s when he decided to go to the police and see if they would protect him after he told them about the brotherhood’s cannibalistic practices.

When Sgt. Patrick Henry O’Shea saw Vernon standing outside his office door in his torn and dirty clothing he felt like just telling him to get out – to leave him alone – but he knew he couldn’t. He was a public servant, and as such he had to listen to everyone’s gripes.

He had to maintain a certain air of fairness, regardless of how he personally felt about bums like this one.

“How can I help you sir?”

“My name is Vernon Barker.”

“How can I help you, Mr. Barker?”

It took twenty minutes for Vernon to tell his story. By the time he was done he was bathed in sweat and Sgt. O’Shea was convinced he was loony bin material.

“The man must be mad! Grave diggers eating corpses! What blarney!” he thought. He called out to the patrolman in the hallway, “O’Toole! Come take this man to the waiting cell.”

Vernon stood up, alarmed. “What are you doing?” he asked, his voice rising a notch.

“It’s quit all right Mr. Barker,” Sgt. O’Shea assured him. “I’m going to put you in a safe place.”

Vernon’s shouts and howls disappeared down the hallway of the police station and into the depths of the old brick buildings holding cell.

The next day.

Hanwell Pauper and Lunatic Asylum

“Hello doctor, how are my wards doing today?” the hospital’s administrator asked a doctor giving a man an injection to calm him down.

“Very well, I’d say sir. Very well indeed. Oh, we do have a new patient. He came in yesterday. Quit upset too, I might add.”

Vernon sat with his back against the cell wall. No one would listen to him. No one believed his story. When his cell door opened a man in a three-piece gray suit entered and introduced himself as the facility’s administrator.

In one last desperate attempt Vernon blurted out his story again. The administrator stood silently across from him, listening with a strange smile on his face. When Vernon ran out of words the administrator pulled out a small black opera mask from his inside jacket pocket and put it on!

Vernon’s screams of horror mingled  with the rest of the lunatics there.

As It Stands, there’s nothing more lonely than not being believed.

The Messenger

Urtan never asked for the mission.

The enormity of it made his guts rumble in protest.

But the Supreme Council of Creations wanted him to go. He heard of their plans just hours before appearing before the august group, from a friend. They were waiting for him in the throne room right now.

He paused outside the great doors and sighed. He had no choice.

It was his duty. The Elders of Eras Minor had made him a Lord because they trusted him, and believed he could handle any task. Straightening his stance, he stepped forward as the huge doors opened.

“We have a mission for you Lord Urtan …” one of the four elderly men said from atop a high four-way throne of alabaster.

“Mankind is destroying their own planet. We’ve watched for eons as they developed more terrible weapons and polluted the skies, the sea, and even the air. Our scientists say that if we eliminate all life on earth there’s still a good chance we could restore the planet’s environment.”

“What then,” Elder Ohji?” Urtan meekly asked.

The last speaker quickly replied, “We colonize. We know how to treat a planet. Look at all of the planets that belong in our confederation.”

“My mission?”

“You are going to judge if mankind is worth saving. When you report back in seven days we’ll consider what you found before deciding humanities fate, ” Elder Ohji explained.

Urtan bowed and walked out as the lights dimmed behind him.


No amount of preparation and study could have prepared Urtan for the experience of living among people who seemed in a constant state of chaos.

Because the Elders had been monitoring earth for eons they knew what Urtan had to have to blend in with the humans. Fortunately, the people of Eras Minor looked a lot like humans.

He was provided with money and earth clothing; a pair of blue jeans and a plain blue t-shirt with a pocket. The sandals on his feet felt awkward, but he liked the feeling of the air tickling his toes. No hat. They also added a mustache that caused him to sneeze at odd times.

Sitting in a small diner in Boise, Idaho, one morning, Urtan witnessed his first fight among humans. Two heavily tattooed bikers got into an argument with two men wearing all black with red armbands sporting swastikas.

Customers panicked and ran out the door as the brawl intensified. Knives were drawn and used with deadly effect. One of the bikers was bleeding badly from a deep gash to his belly, and one of the black-clothed men lay on the floor bleeding out from a dozen wounds that would shortly take his life.

Urtan never left his table. When the police came he told them what he saw. Afterwards he thought about the senseless violence and what had spurred it. He came to the conclusion that cultural differences could cause violence.

After reading newspapers that reporting on world events, it was apparent that not only could individuals be reduced to combatants over trivial matters, but countries could, which often led to all-out warfare.

He found that humans were quick to hate and slow to forgive. Urtan went to airports, concerts, horse races, and colleges. He watched TV news every night at 5:00 o’clock. He mingled with people in community parks, and went to a National League football game where opposing fans broke out in drunken melee.

He talked with homeless people from Idaho to California. He made a point of taking public transportation everywhere he went. He listened to and observed people closely. His disguise allowed him to blend in with the erratic humans wherever he went.

By day four, Urtan was beginning to think there was no hope for the human race. Hate and fear was a toxic mix, and most humans seemed to have plenty of both. He witnessed violence, in one form or another, every day.

There was one interesting thing about the humans that gave Urtan pause.

They often adopted other lesser species, like dogs, cats, and horses. Where Urtan was from it was just the opposite; lesser species were treated harshly, and were never kept as pets.

It fascinated him how some lesser species were considered food, while others were literally adopted into earth families who loved them. It made Urtan wonder if there was flicker of hope for mankind.

Could he justify saving the world because humans had pets they pampered? He thought about what the Elders would say. It was unlikely they would see that as a reason not to wipe out all the living inhabitants of earth.

With one day left before he had to return to his planet, Urtan went for a walk in a small town in the California High Sierras. Snow had fallen the night before and blanketed the little main street with a coat of white.

He noticed that there was a man lying on a bench in front of a gift shop. He had pieces of cardboard on him for a blanket and was shivering. A tiny dog peeked out from his place next to the man’s face.

As he watched two young boys came by. They stopped and looked at the man and dog, then left. But an hour later they returned with blankets and some supplies. The elderly man wept as he gave his dog some of the food they brought.

The boys stayed with the man for an hour. Talking with him and encouraging him. When they left the old man wrapped his blankets around himself and his dog and curled back up on the bench.

Urtan was impressed. Could it be that when the humans are young they did have good hearts? That would make a good argument for their survival. The chance that a new generation could bring positive change to the world was there.

Eras Minor 

The Elders listened attentively to Urtan’s report.

When he finished they conferred among themselves briefly and the eldest one said, “It sound’s like you think there’s hope for humanity. Frankly, we’re skeptical of your optimism, but intrigued by the story of the two young earthlings who showed so much compassion.

“So here’s our decision; we will give the earthlings another 100 years to prove themselves worthy of living in the universe. Then we will send another messenger to make that determination.”

Urtan bowed. He was at loss for words he was so happy. He wasn’t going to be the messenger of death after all.

As he walked down the marble corridors that led to his room in the palace, he wondered, once more, if there was really hope for the human race.

As It Stands, man is his own worst enemy.

A Monster in the Midst

Columbus, Ohio 1849

Conor O’Callaghan, and his family of eight children and a wife, left Ireland in a coffin ship bound for America.

They huddled together in the ship’s filthy hold with the rest of the impoverished Irish immigrants escaping the An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) in Gaeilge, Ireland.

When God’s wrath struck Ireland’s poor population in 1845, with a potato famine, it was devastating. The people’s only staple food, potatoes, were afflicted with a Blight that turned them black.

Starving peasants tried to eat them, but ended up vomiting.

When the O’Callaghan family arrived in Columbus, Ohio, they found a place to stay in the north side of the city. In the swamp flats where inexpensive land was available. Work was also available with the city.

Two years later, the Irish settlement spread to Franklin, on Naghten Street where the O’Callaghan’s had moved up in the world into a large six-bedroom house. Conor had gotten a job in the police force.

He was also an entrepreneur who sold whiskey, disguised as Dr. Talent’s Medicinal Tonic. He sold it on the sly, and never had trouble finding customers. After working out a deal with a local bootlegger, he produced enough product to ship to other counties as far away as New York.

The moral duality of Conors life never troubled him. He always saw it as survival. He’d do anything for his pack. It was that simple. He’d defied the odds, and provided them with a roof over their head, and food in their bellies.

In his three years of police service he’d seen a fair amount of violence and broke up numerous fights. He built a reputation on toughness and the ability to get things done. He even solved a couple of murders after being promoted from patrolman to lieutenant recently.

Conor’s political and underworld contacts gave him an advantage over his fellow officers. He was both trusted and feared.

Conor and his wife Aingeal, avoided the social life in town, perferring to stay at home with their family. Neither were brought up with any social graces, and they didn’t attempt to assume them as their financial status in society improved.

Because of their desire to stay away from most people, the O’Callaghan clan was looked upon suspiciously by their gregarious countrymen. But Conor had the people’s respect, if not their love.

In one unseasonably warm night, as Conor sat alone on his porch rocking back and forth and puffing on a pipe, he heard the keening wail of a banshee! It pierced his ears and caused him to drop his pipe.

Like most of his peers, Conor was a superstitious man, and believed in banshees, fairies, and leprechauns. He knew that wail meant trouble. Someone was going to die that night. He picked up his pipe and relit it.

He heard about the murder before he even reached his office the next morning. A crowd of people, with patrolman fighting to hold them back, surrounded a body of a man sprawled out in front of the general store.

His neck and face were slashed to meaty ribbons, as was most of the rest of the body. The victim had bled out, and the drying pool of blood was attracting flies.

“Sergeant Whelan! Will you kindly cover up this body, and have it taken to the coroner’s office?”

“Yes sir! What shall I tell that reporter over there? He’s been waiting to talk to someone.”

“Tell him I don’t know a damn thing, and when I do, I’ll let them know,” Conor replied.

He didn’t like the way the day started and it was only going to get worse.

When he got back to his office he sent one of the patrolman out to bring in one of his public contacts – a drunken gadfly who knew everyone in the city. He was easily located in the nearby saloon.

Davin McGrath was an alcoholic who was well known in Columbus for spending most of his waking hours in a saloon. His keen ears picked up on conversations like a well-trained hound dog.

He knew who was mad, at who; and who was screwing someone else’s wife.
He heard many interesting conversations in the saloons confessional, presided over by the bartender, Tommy Shea.

His worth came in the form of collecting those drunken tidbits in order to get a good idea what was happening in the small community of 3,000 immigrants.

When summoned, he passed on this information to lieutenant, Conor ‘O’Callaghan.

“Right to the point today, McGrath. What have you heard about a murder on Naghten Street last night?”

He took a sip from the silver flask in his jacket pocket and regarded Conor, trying to judge his mood.

“Nothing yet, it’s too early,” he gingerly replied.

“Damn! No arguments at the saloon last night? No fights?”

“Aye, there were a few tussles, but nothing to take note of.”

Conor handed him two silver dollars. “Let me know when you do hear something won’t you?”

“Aye governor!” McGrath grinned happily on his way out.

In the following two months, two more bodies were discovered. Both were attacked on full moons. They were as badly mutilated as the first victim.

The pressure from the townspeople to catch the killer was becoming intense. Conor knew they were afraid and they wanted answers.

Worse yet, he knew who the killer was.

McGrath showed up at Conor’s office late one afternoon in a strange state.
It took Conor a moment to realize what it was, the red-eyed old man wasn’t drunk. He was dead sober and looked like hell roasted over. He wouldn’t sit down when offered.

“Gotta leave today lieutenant! I was wondering if you could float me a small stake for old times sake?”

His was trembling nervously, looking over his shoulder and around the room as he waited for a reply.

“Sit down mate. What’s the matter? Why this sudden rush to leave town?” Conor asked.

“I saw something I wish I hadn’t last night in the alley behind the saloon. I just want to move on now, and I desperately need some financial help.”

“Tell me what happen Gavin,” he said, using the other man’s first name to sooth him. Getting up from his chair, Conor came over to him and put an arm around his shoulder.

“You can tell me anything. If you have any knowledge whose committing these terrible murders it’s your civic duty to tell me right now.”

“I’m afraid,” the old man whimpered.

“What did you see last night? I must know!”

“Your son, Aidan,” he said, with cracked lips dry from fear.

“What?” Conor let go of him and took a step back. “Are you sure?”

“I went outside to drain my pecker when I saw your son down on all fours and howling like a wolf! As I watched his body transform into a hairy horror, I must of passed out.

The next thing I remember was he was tearing into that man’s body!”

“You’re were seeing things. The liquor has finally turned your brain into mush.”

“Please lieutenant, I won’t say a word about this to anyone! I’ll disappear.”

Conor studied the old man, watching him tremble uncontrollably, with one hand out pleading. No one would ever believe his crazy story. Their family secret was bound to get out someday. But not today.

He opened a desk drawer and took out a leather wallet. Pulling out some paper money, he gave it to McGrath and wished him luck.

Shortly after the visit, Conor quit his job and moved his family out West to start over.

Aidan’s secret was forever guarded with the family’s new system to lock him up on full moons. They’d gotten careless in Columbus.

For decades the people of Columbus, Ohio talked about the rash of horrific mutilation murders. Rumors had it that the killings mysteriously stopped when the town drunk and a police lieutenant suddenly left town.

As It Stands, Conor was willing to do anything for his pack.