The Color of Truth

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I grew up seeing colors when people spoke.

It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. I also see emotions in color. When I was little, I saw my mom in shades of blue when she talked with me. Blue is the color of truth, by the way.

If she was mad at me she didn’t have to say a thing. I could see the red glow and avoided her. I quit talking about colors to my mom and dad when I went into First Grade. They fluffed off what I was telling them about colors so I kept – what I then thought was a super power – to myself.

Little did I realize what that power would mean to me, and others, when I got older.

By the time I was out of high school, I was seeing brighter colors and more variations. For example, I knew when a person was depressed because they’d be surrounded with a gray highlight.

Sadness is purple. Anger is red. Green means someone is untrustworthy. Yellow is hope. Orange is love. Lies are black. Only I see these colors. No one else sees anything them. I’m cursed, or blessed, depending on how you look at it.

Here’s the kicker: when I’m around a lot of people it’s like tripping on some good LSD. The colors are fantastic! They blend into subtle tones that any artist would envy. Going through high school I seriously considered art as a career, but didn’t do anything about it when I graduated.

I briefly studied law at a local junior college thinking that with my ability to see truth or lies it would come in handy for a job – say as a judge. Being a cop, or detective, was another consideration, but frankly I preferred to avoid violence if possible.

In the end, I got a degree and became a 7th grade history teacher. I found the experience oddly satisfying even though it meant sometimes dealing with kids who were jerks. I admit to sometimes amusing myself with the smart guys in class by calling them on every lie they told. Pinning them like butterfly’s to a board, was a humbling experience for bullies too.

Overall, I had a good bond with most of my class. Students knew I was fair and that I didn’t believe in homework. There were always a select few who thought it was their duty to disrupt my class however.

There were two ring-leaders in particular who challenged me from the first day of the semester. Robbie McGinn, and Mike Hunter. Neither showed any interest in learning. They were aloof from other students, preferring their own company, and sitting apart from other students in the cafeteria.

I saw a green glow on both of them that seemed to grow fainter as the weeks went by, morphing into a new color – somewhere between green and black. I also noticed that their colors shifted rapidly at times. I started seeing brilliant flashes of red on both of the boys that would come and go in minutes.

One afternoon, after class let out, one of my students asked to speak with me. He heard a conversation between Robbie and Mike that disturbed him.

“They were talking about killing people here at the school,” the student, whose name was Paul, said. “I was in a toilet stall and heard Mike say they were going to have a kill count higher than any other shooting in the nation!”

I watched Paul speak and noted the color blue engulfing him before taking him to the principal to repeat his story.

Tom Blount, the principal, listened politely as Paul told him what he heard. I sat next to him in front of the principal’s desk. He thanked Paul for coming in and dismissed him, asking me to stay.

I noticed a green glow surrounded Blount. I was surprised and disappointed when he basically wrote off Paul’s warning.

“These kids,” he said condescendingly, “They’ll say anything. He probably had a gripe with one or both of the boys. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

I told him that wasn’t the way I saw it, but he brushed me off too. But I couldn’t let go of it. Not in this day and age. So I called the boy’s parents in for a conference. I talked with Mike’s parents first. That was a fiasco.

Instead of being concerned that their son might be plotting a massacre, they turned on me like rabid dogs! Both were glowing red, like two twin fires, as they accused me of bad-mouthing their kid.

Robbie’s parents were calmer. After repeating the bathroom conversation to them the father spoke up.

You know, of course, that you’re slandering my son with this tale of yours?”

He suddenly was bathed in a luminescent green. Once again, I found myself surprised and shocked by a parental reaction.

“I’m a lawyer Mr. Smith, and won’t allow anyone to speak badly about any member of my family. Robbie is a good boy, perhaps spirited, but that’s totally normal for a boy his age. I trust he won’t have a problem in your class now after this accusation?”

As they got up, I tried to say something, but they were both reflecting red flashes intertwined with a protective orange glow. It was useless. I sighed and gathered up a stack of papers to correct, and put them in my briefcase. I left the light on because the janitor was next door and my room was his next stop.

A week later, Robbie and Mike jumped Paul during recess on the playground, and beat him up. I happened to be the teacher on duty at the time and was distracted while arbitrating a verbal argument between two girls.

I did see the two culprits appear from behind the handball wall, walking fast with their heads down. They were both bathed in a brown light that I’d never seen before. I instantly knew that it meant mean and menacing.

By the time I got to the other side of the handball wall Paul was trying to sit up. His nose was bleeding and one eye was already swollen shut. I helped him stand up and offered to take him to the school nurse.

“No! I’ll go alone,” he said, and I saw him covered in a purple glow as he walked away. When I reported the beating to the principal he agreed to call the parents in and talk with them about their sons.

The next day I stopped by the principal’s office to hear about the result of the meaning. I was stunned when he said the parents told him their boys did not beat anyone up! And, that when he questioned Paul, he denied it was them who hit him. 

I noticed he looked down guiltily when he told me that one of the fathers was on the verge of suing me for harassing his son. It was a direct warning coming from a cowed school official.

As I mentioned before, I don’t like violence. The only gun in my house belonged to my great-great grandfather, a Smith and Wesson revolver in remarkable condition. When I went home that night I pulled it out of the little safe I had under my bed and found a box of .38 shorts inside too.

I never had a premonition before. It was scary. Something urged me to bring my gun to class in my briefcase. I popped it open and looked down the barrel. It looked squeaky clean. The pearl handle was weathered with time and had a thin crack on one side. I fired it once when my dad and I went up to a small firing range in the hills and tested it. He said the barrel was a little warped, but could be compensated for. I was twelve years-old at the time.

I felt nervous and uneasy the next day when I got to school. I kept looking down at my briefcase underneath the desk and thinking about the revolver. As the day wore on I forgot about it.

After taking the revolver to work with me for a month, I began to doubt my instincts and considered putting it back into the safe. When class started I made a mental note to leave it at home tomorrow.

Ten minutes into the study plan, Mike and Robbie burst through the door, each carrying an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. The students screamed and dropped down to the floor as they sprayed a hail of bullets just over their heads.

I dropped down behind my desk as they stitched a deadly pattern in the chalk board behind me. I opened my brief case, grabbed the loaded revolver and took a deep breath. The firing stopped and I heard empty loaders drop to the ground as they reached for replacements.

I looked under the desk and saw their legs. Without thinking I fired twice! There was an angry curse as Robbie fell down, dropping his weapon, and grabbed his bloody ankle. Mike fired a burst into the desk hoping to hit me, but I was already scooting out from underneath.

I stood up and saw Mike point his weapon in my direction as I fired the first shot! Something spun me around and my shirt was suddenly soaked in blood! As I collapsed in slow motion, I fired the last three shots in Mike’s direction before passing out.

When I woke up in a hospital three days later my elderly parents were at my bedside. A guard standing outside the door to my room looked in and saw that I was awake, he began talking into a radio on his shoulder.

Minutes later two police detectives arrived and asked my parents for some time alone with me. I repeated everything I could remember twice, before they were satisfied and left. They informed me that I killed Mike, and wounded Robbie…and that all of my students were safe because of my heroic action!

Then, as they walked out the door, a stream of my students filled the room with a brilliant combination of orange and yellow! I felt weak from my wound, but happier than I’d ever felt before.

Then a bright white light caught my eyes, and I became one with the universe.

As It Stands, some of us are gifted with the power to see beyond words through means that remain a mystery to the rest.

The Arabian Theatre Murders

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The head usher, James Cooper, found the body next to one of the real palm trees in the lobby of The Arabian Theatre.

He wasn’t the kind of person who panicked easily, especially after serving with the Army during World War I, and seeing his share of combat; which helped earn him the rank of Sergeant-Major before mustering out. He only had minutes before the movie ended and thousands of waiting customers would pour into the lobby for the next showing.

The Arabian Theatre, built-in 1927, rivaled The luxurious Uptown Theatre in Chicago. Both were picture palaces that Chicagoans could escape to, away from the hard realities of the 1930s.

For a quarter, movie-goers could sit in the courtyard of a Moorish or Spanish palace. Before the movie even came on they could look up at the sky and marvel at the twinkling stars (recessed lights) and flowing clouds on the spacious ceiling. 

The Arabian Theatre covered 52,000 square feet and seated 6,000 patrons. The decor was something out of 1001 Arabian Nights, with a lobby that featured pillars that ascended seven stories to an elaborate dome ceiling.

Over 150 people worked there, including a 38 musician in-house orchestra. Most of the rest of the employees were ushers who were essential cogs in managing some 20,000 people who were moved in and out of The Arabian Theatre in just one day.

As you can imagine, that required great organizational skills. The Arabian’s owner hired  Cooper, who had the skills to keep everyone moving in two directions in the space of one half hour. That’s all the time there was between shows.

Usher uniforms of the day were sharp-looking and reflected a theatre’s theme. In the Arabian’s case that meant wearing a fez with their colonial-style outfits, complete with a yellow sash hanging from a wide belt on their navy blue trousers. Their white jackets had gold epaulettes and stitching down each sleeve.

Cooper called two ushers over and had them carry the bleeding body over to a storeroom. He called out for another usher to get some wet rags and helped him clean the trail of blood off the expensive marble floor.

No sooner did he stand up and straighten his jacket before the front doors were thrown up to a long eager line outside. Cooper watched the traffic flow while standing outside of the storeroom where the body was.

He waited until the movie started before going to his office and calling the police. There was no use in starting a riot by letting the theatre-goers know a man had been murdered. When they arrived the head detective was less than pleased with Cooper’s decision.

“In other words, you cleaned up the crime scene right?” the angry detective asked while looking down at the dead man.

“I did it to prevent…” he repeated.

“Shut up! I don’t want to hear that excuse again damn it! I’m going to need your cooperation to solve this case so don’t hold anything back that you know about the deceased.

“Certainly, I’ll get his employment file right away,” Cooper said and started to head for his office.

“Hold on pal! Not so quick. I want to ask you a few more questions.”

While they huddled outside the storeroom talking, an ambulance arrived and the driver and his assistant took the body away, after a beat cop quit taking photos of the victim.

“How many people work here?” the detective queried.

“About 150. I’d have to check my files to be sure.”

“That’s fine for now. Any trouble-makers? Maybe a fight between employees?”

“Listen…I only manager the ushers. They’re all I can account for, and as far as I know there’s no bad blood between any of my guys. You’ll have to talk with the manager, or the owner, about the rest of the staff.

When the detective left, after getting the dead man’s personnel file, Cooper sat down and sighed. His desk was cluttered with files, notes, and messages nearly burying the mahogany humidor for his good Cuban cigars. His one vice. He opened it, took one out, and lit it with a finely carved silver table lighter the manager gave him last year for Christmas.

The only thing he knew for sure was the victim was stabbed in the heart. He’d have to start with that as he conducted a personal investigation into the murder. Despite being a tough disciplinarian, Cooper was also known for being fair to all of his employees. He expected everyone would cooperate with his search. 

The sensational headlines the next day did little to discourage movie-goers who turned out in even greater numbers than usual for a Wednesday, which always featured lowered rates for women to attract customers.

During the last show of the day, one of the women who worked at the ticket windows came running out of the Ladies Room screaming her lungs out! Cooper who was counting receipts in his office, heard her through the closed-door.

He jumped up and ran outside seeking the source of the scream. An usher and a bartender from the lounge were trying to calm down a woman when he got there.

“What?” he shouted over her wails. “What’s wrong?” he pleaded.

“Dead woman in one of the stalls,” she sobbed.

He didn’t wait to hear more, and ran to the women’s restroom. Bursting through the door he immediately saw a body sprawled out in one of the stalls. A pool of blood was forming near the head.

Cooper got up close and saw her throat had been cut, from ear-to-ear. She wasn’t wearing a uniform, and he guessed she was an attendee. The shit was really going to hit the fan now he thought, as he carefully stepped back and then out of the room. He posted an usher outside the room and called the police.

“It’s a damn good thing you didn’t touch a thing this time…right Cooper?” the detective was prattling as he stood there in a daze.

“This is bad,” the detective kept repeating, as the photographer and medical personnel entered the room. Two regular beat cops stood guard outside of the lady’s room as the detective tried to get Cooper’s attention.

“You got a killer working here somewhere,” he assured him.

“You don’t know that,” he pushed back.

The newspapers went wild after the second murder. One headline writer suggested the killer might be a Phantom of the Opera copycat, reminding readers of the 1925 film featuring Lon Chaney as the phantom.

Two weeks went by before the killer struck again. A stagehand was found hanging from a prop in the backstage storage area. His stomach was slit sideways, exposing his intestines which hung from the terrible slash.

The public’s reaction to the murders was mixed. Some people (especially the owners of the Uptown Theatre) demanded the Arabian be closed until the killer was exposed. Others showed up every day like nothing happened. Ticket-sales remained steady despite the headlines.

The Arabian’s manager, American born Herman Mueller, and Cooper spent hours every day talking with employees, seeking clues, and cooperating with the police and the mayor’s office, which got involved after the second murder. Mueller and Cooper both had several things in common. One being their hated of Hitler, and what he was doing to Germany.

Hans Ziegler, the owner of the Arabian, spent his time between Germany, where he had another palatial movie theatre, and Chicago. He was a mystery man who was born somewhere in Europe (most likely Austria), and was reputed to have business ties worldwide. He was also an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler, who assumed the Presidency of Germany after the death of President Hindenburg in 1934.

Wealth, and growing political power through Hitler allowed Ziegler to indulge in one of his favorite hobbies; killing innocent people for no good reason other than to experience the thrill. He was also a master-of-disguise. Few people really knew what he looked like.

Ziegler honed his hunting skills in his movie theatres across the world. Moving from one property to the next, he easily eluded the police. His current hunt at The Arabian was entertaining enough to stay around for a fourth victim before moving on.

He decided to make this kill more challenging. His head usher’s combat experience from World War I, would be a step up from his usual helpless victims. The thought intrigued him. Cooper wasn’t a real big man. He stood five-feet, nine-inches tall, and weighed about 145 pounds. According to his resume he was 38-year years old.

Ziegler was ten years younger and larger; at six-feet, 190 pounds. He felt confident he could overwhelm the smaller and older man. After eight years of killing people off like flies he finally got the urge to up his game.

But that didn’t mean he was going to play fair.

One night Ziegler decided to make his move. He sat through the last movie and when the audience headed out to the exits he went back inside the theatre, passing inquiring ushers with an excuse of looking for his wife, and went down the hall off the lounge where Cooper’s office was.

He expected Cooper would be alone and counting the night’s receipt’s and money as was his custom at this time. He was partly right.

Ziegler knocked on the door and when it started to open he thrust his body against it, driving the person on the other side into the wall! 

Cooper, from behind his desk, saw Ziegler push past Mueller, waving a knife and growling like an animal! He picked up the heavy wooden humidor on his desk and hurled it at Ziegler, hitting him on the side of his head.

Mueller, who had recovered, threw a wicked right cross and connected with Ziegler’s chin. He dropped like a rock. 

It took five days before Ziegler’s identity was finally revealed and the story made the national headlines. Cooper and Mueller were hailed as heroes, but were soon out of a job when The Arabian was shut down.

“Maybe we ought to try something different in life,” Mueller said as they drank coffee at a local diner and looked for jobs in the newspaper classifieds.

“What do you think about being private eyes?” Cooper asked while dunking his donut in his steaming cup of black coffee.

“What do you know about the job?” Mueller asked.

“Not a damn thing,” Cooper grinned. 

“Oh…well count me in!” Mueller said.

As It Stands, Cooper and Mueller may emerge again in a future case.

The Aquarium

“What are they?” Tad Chester from JQIK TV,  asked as he looked in to the depths of the biggest private aquarium he’d ever seen.

It was massive, circling the entire 20,000 foot mansion and was a 100-feet deep. Burt, the mansion’s owner watched what the reporter was pointing at with a secret amusement.

“They’re called Oscars,” he replied. ‘They’re very territorial little beasts and have a habit of vigorously defending their space. To keep things interesting there’s also fish-eating Piranha in there. They’re really glutinous little bastards and will attack any living thing that invades their space.”

“I see fresh water fish and ocean-going fish in there. How’s that possible?” the reporter queried.

“It’s possible because of genius engineering. You can’t tell, but there’s a glass barrier between the two types of water separating the species that allows for them to appear to be next to one another.”

“That’s simply amazing Mr. Peters. Thank you for giving me a fascinating tour of your world-class aquarium. I can’t wait to share it with my viewers, he said while giving the cameraman his clue to stop filming.

“You’re welcome. I’ll show you both out now.

Later that night.

Burt moved among the guests chatting and laughing at their lame jokes. As usual he had an eclectic gathering ranging from the super wealthy to starving artists. He loved to show off his aquarium and frequently had his butler, Mr. Keets, arrange affairs like this.

Mr. Keets made sure all the food being served was seafood cooked by gourmet chefs. The dinner settings including ocean-themed silverware, with mermaids on the ends of forks and spoons. The knife handles were adorned with Neptune’s likeness.

The dining room was at the center of the mansion, with hallways that spun off it like spokes on a wheel. Each hallway led to different sections of the building. A blue-lit corridor ran alongside the outer walls next to the aquarium.

Visitors could only see about 40-feet of the aquarium which continued down another 60-feet underground. Burt had cameras covering every square inch of the aquarium, but they weren’t for public viewing. He had a small control room equipped with cameras and computers that controlled the temperatures in the various sections of the giant fish habitat.

The world knew Burt Peters as the man who discovered Atlantis. World fame made him rich enough to invent a past based on fiction, but difficult to verify. And rich enough to spend millions on his one-of-a-kind underwater world and labyrinth.

It was stocked with thousands of types of fish from all over the planet. Everything from tiger sharks to minnows glided by the glass barrier, entertaining and titillating visitors.

After all of the guests were gone Burt took a concealed elevator to the top floor of the mansion. He stepped out into a room that looked down at the top of the aquarium. He could see fish swimming below him through the glass floor. He went to a trap door and lifted it up. Taking off all of his clothes, Burt climbed down a ladder and slid into the warm water.

Aiolos Pileidis, aka Burt, was the last survivor of the Atlantean civilization. His fate was to outlive his peers and culture. Old age didn’t come to Atlanteans, but death could still come by violent means. Over the centuries killer sharks and other lethal sea creatures took their toll.

Aiolos became the ultimate survivor when he decided to live on land. Like his peers he was able to live underwater, and on land. He got lonely after 10-years of no companionship after his friend Niclas fell victim to a school of sharks. He was left with no one but the fish to talk with.

It was time for a change. It took him a year to gather an expedition together. The investors believed he was an expert on Atlantean lore. When the big discovery was made, Aiolos instantly became a worldwide celebrity.

Money poured in. It was still pouring in after the first three years it took to build his gargantuan aquarium. With the help of the greatest engineers on the planet he designed it and oversaw the construction.

The only thing lacking in Aiolos’ life was danger. The creatures of the aquarium feared him, recognizing that he was the ultimate predator. Sharks would swim near him, but guardedly kept their distance when he went for his nightly swim.

Preversly, he missed seeing life and death struggles between his peers and the denizens of the deep. He was pondering possibilities one evening when he saw an intruder outside with his security cameras.

The idea came to him full-blown. 

He needed to capture this would-be home invader. That part was easy. He went to the front door and listened for a moment as the man picked at the lock with something metallic. 

Aiolos whipped the door open and as the man fell forward off-balance, he kicked him in the head. Just one swift kick put his erstwhile visitor to sleep. Aiolos went to a storage unit off one of the corridors and found what he was looking for.

A divers setup. One oxygen tank, a breathing apparatus, and a pair of divers’ goggles. He had to wear the gear or attract attention when he led the dives down to Atlantis’s ruins. He loaded it into the elevator and went back to the man lying unconscious on the marble floor. After he loaded him into the elevator he pushed the button that said “Top.” 

It wasn’t easy fitting the apparatus onto the slumbering man. By the time he had everything in place the man was regaining consciousness. He opened the trap door and let gravity do it’s thing. When he hit the water the man was fully awake. He was treading water when Aiolos called down to him, “Better put the mouth piece in and start looking for a way out. I’ll give you a hint – you’re going to have to dive down to find it!”

Aiolos took the elevator to the first floor, and stepped into the blue-lit corridor next to the aquarium’s glass. He waited patiently, then saw the man go past him as he sought greater depths.

He didn’t feel guilty about telling the man a lie. The guy was a crook. He ended up providing hours of pleasure for Aiolos who watched him trying to avoid the tiger shark and a few other nasty creatures.

It was like throwing out bait, which he found to be highly stimulating and entertaining. Especially when the tiger shark took a bite out of the terrified victim and caused a blood frenzy among the other sharks who came from the dark depths to feast!

His problem was solved. He’d start a very private swim club. The challenge would be finding members. But that was alright. He had all the time in the world.

As It Stands, Atlanteans are often portrayed as enlightened humans, so I thought I’d look at their dark side in this tale.

Hope For A Rainy Day

Earth 2072

Water was not a life-saver to all living things after the invasion.

Humans and animals still spent their lives seeking water to survive, but the aliens feared and hated water. It could kill them on contact. Water was the only reason the invasion was never complete and the only reason why the human race still even existed.

It didn’t matter if it was salt water, or fresh water; both were deadly to the Sarks who took that chance to plunder earth’s bountiful resources. They didn’t come to stay forever. The Colony, as they called themselves, were a lot like the ancient Vikings in man’s history; they came to loot until there wasn’t anything to plunder anymore.

Thousands of ships from The Colony surrounded the earth, sending out smaller vessels that landed on the planet with their warriors and miners. The Sarks lived to loot and take their prizes back home to Zalon, in the Andromeda galaxy.

The Sark military leaders knew they were taking a chance when they attacked earth because water covered about 70 percent of the planet. But the rewards in resources justified the invasion in their minds.

Gold, silver, and copper, were highly valued, but so were gemstones like rubies, diamonds, jade, chalcedony, topaz, and more. Minerals like aeschynite, britholite, cerite, fluocerite, monazite, synchysite and titanite were all considered bountiful booty.

The Sarks set up mining operations throughout earth. They were heavily protected by veteran warriors willing to give up their lives for The Colony. Mankind, in turn, did everything possible to make life miserable for the invaders.

When the Sarks first struck earth, conventional weapons were used against them with no effect. It took months before one man, Chang Apana a Hawaiian scientist, discovered how deadly water was to the invaders. Since that time, water guns and water cannons became the choice of weapons.

Since the worldwide drought began in 2060, no rain had fallen on the dying polluted planet. Water became more precious than gold to people. The irony of having to use it as a weapon against the invaders wasn’t lost on anyone.

The Sarks had monitored Earth since 2060, and after a decade of no rain they felt comfortable enough to launch the invasion.

There were no organized governments to resist the Sarks. They had long since destroyed each other across the earth after the Global Wars period between 2045 and 2057. Afterwards only pockets of people were left scattered throughout the ruins of once proud civilizations around the planet.

During this dark time for humanity Chang never gave up trying to drive the Sarks off the planet.

Because the Sarks destroyed what fragile internet there was, along with the exhausted telecommunication systems and satellites, it was difficult for Chang to contact other scientists. He’d been trying for months when he got a break and met a German scientist, Hans Ritter, who was searching for him.

Ritter’s expertise was rockets. Chang was once a renowned chemist and mathematician. It was a third scientist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, a physicist and engineer, that helped them work as a team with a common goal.

That goal was to launch a rocket containing rain-making materials, that would circle the planet and seed the atmosphere with rain clouds. It was a lofty goal, but possible.

They worked for months refining their calculations and gathering the needed materials. Santiago, with help from a crew of welders and steel-workers, worked around the clock creating the unique rocket and it’s delivery system.

Chang used silver iodide aerosols, combined with some ingredients of his own, to create clouds which would create rain in the earth’s atmosphere. The rocket would only have to circle the earth once. The fuel situation was solved when a rocket-fuel depot was discovered in a nearby bunker complex.

The project took a year of scavenging for parts and building a launch platform far from any Sark mining operations. The day finally came when the unmanned rocket was ready for launch.

“A thought just came to me,” Santiago said before Chang engaged the launch code count- down.

“How long do you think it’ll rain for?

Chang looked over at his fellow scientist and said, “I have no idea,” and started the sequence.

A Month Later on Zalon

Spouses of the dead earth raiders held a solemn ceremony in honor of their untimely deaths. Scribes recorded the event as the worst incident in The Colony’s history. It lasted, the chronicles reported, for 40-days, and 40-nights.

As It Stands, this tale, with it’s Biblical underpinings, examines another way to look at how valueable water can be to mankind.

The Noise Under Denny’s Bed

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He heard the noise again.

Something was under his bed scratching the wooden floor. In the dark silence of his bedroom, seven-year-old Denny shivered in fear. He wanted to pull the covers over his head, but then whatever was underneath his bed might jump out when he couldn’t see.

His terrified brown eyes held back tears. He couldn’t go wake Mom and Dad again another night. Three times was their limit apparently, because they told him to be a big boy, and there was nothing under his bed. They both looked numerous times in the last week and declared the area safe from monsters.

Then they explained to him that there was no such thing as monsters. It was his active imagination, his mother said. “There was nothing to be afraid of,” his father reassured him with a hug, and a pat on his curly brown hair.

Despite all of his parents reassurances, the thing was scratching the floor underneath his bed again the next night. He held his breath so it wouldn’t hear him. The scratching stopped and he heard strange grunting sounds. He exhaled dramatically and jumped off the bed.

He could see underneath his bed by the light cast from the nightlight plugged in on the other side. Nothing! There wasn’t anything there. No monster. He turned on the room light and got down on his knees and peered under the bed expecting to see some scratch marks. There weren’t any.

Reluctantly, he got up and turned off the room light. The nightlight cast a shadow across the floor when he went back to his bed. He laid down on top of the covers…listening. Finally, he fell asleep out of sheer exhaustion in the early morning hours.

The next morning Denny’s parents asked him how he slept?

“Good,” he yawned, as he sat down at the breakfast table.

“No noise under the bed?” his father asked between bites of French toast.

“Yeah, there was a noise…” his voiced trailed off.

“But you stayed in bed like a big boy,” his mother jumped in with her cheerful voice that she always used to compliment him in.

He smiled weakly, took his fork and speared a chunk of French toast that she had already cut up for him. It was a Saturday. No school. No work. Everyone went their separate way most of the day.

Denny played in the yard with his friend Alec who brought over a baseball to play catch. They threw the ball back and forth for hours while talking about sports. His mother worked in the front yard garden, pruning the rose bushes. His father was in the garage working on one of his wood projects.

After lunch the boys went back to playing catch when Denny miss-handled the ball and it hit a screened opening that led to a crawl space beneath the house. The screen was barely on when Denny peered into the blackness after picking the baseball up.

Alec ran over to him and got down on his knees.

“See anything?” he asked.

“Too dark.”

“Ever go underneath a house?” Alec asked.

“No.”

“I have. Our house. There were spiders all over the place.”

“Was that all? Was there anything else?” Denny prodded him.

“My mom’s cat. She needed me to go in and help get him out,” Alec replied.

“Nothing scary?”

“No…but it was hard to move around,” Alec said.

A scratching noise suddenly got both of the boys attention. It was coming from the opening. They both heard the rustling of a big body moving around and sensed movement in the darkness.

When grunting sounds broke the silence, both boys got up and ran screaming to the front yard. Denny’s mother calmed them down while his dad went to investigate.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, concern dripping from each word.

“There’s a monster under your house,” Alec claimed.

“We heard it!” an excited Denny backed him up.

“Nonsense! Come. Let’s have a look.

She led the boys back around the house to the opening and got down on all fours. Dad came crawling out with dirt on his shirt and a shred of cobweb clinging to his hair.

“Was anyone in there?” she asked him.

“No, but we could use some more insulation in there,” he said.

“Okay boys.. are you playing a prank on me?” she asked.

“No!” they cried out in unison.

She looked closely at each boy and shook her head. “I’m going back to my gardening. You boys find something else to do.”

The boys watched her leave.

“I’m going home,” Alec said.

“I heard something.

“I know,” Alec replied as he picked up his mitt and baseball. “See ya later.”

That night when Denny’s parents were sure he was asleep they went to the guest bedroom and opened a hidden trap door that led underneath the house. Denny’s dad lowered himself down and turned on his flashlight.

He could see the body was partly unbound and one arm was free. He would have to find something stronger to knock them out with – yet not kill them. Lately there’d been some mishaps. The duct tape around their mouths was working, but some victims managed to get an arm or leg loose from the rope tied around them while waiting to be transported.

No one stayed under the house for more than 48-hours. When the lab technicians came to collect their human guinea pigs it was always in the early morning when most people were sleeping.

The arrangement worked out well for the clandestine company, and Denny’s parents pocketbook. They planned to retire early. The extra money would mean they could do so in style.

They decided to solve Denny’s problem by moving into a new home, with it’s own basement. Denny loved his new room – the view out of the second story window was great – and he quit hearing the noises under his bed at night.

As It Stands, this tale is a social comment on what people will do to get rich these days.

The Legend of the Ancestor

 

Numaga

A murder of crows descended upon the two decaying bodies in the desert. Waves of heat shimmered across the Oasis of Mara as the crows savaged the corpses. 

Nearby, sitting under a palm tree, Akuuki watched the crows get chased away by two large turkey buzzards who claimed the bodies as theirs under the blazing Mojave sun. The sight didn’t faze Akuuki.

He was a Chemehuevi, but had many Serrano, Cahuilla, and Mojave friends and relatives scattered throughout the high desert.

The two men being ripped apart by the vultures were renegades who broke into his hidden cache and stole his food. Despite the Spirit Stick he put in the entrance of the small cave, they violated it.

When he silently snuck up on them they were packing their belongings into backpacks. He saw the red piece of blanket that was wrapped around his stash get stuffed into one of the backpacks. It was enough.

Pulling back on the hard hickory bow he sent an arrow into the tallest man’s body! The other man turned and pulled his bone hunting knife from his leather belt and threw it at the same time Akuuki’s arrow pierced his heart. The knife flew harmlessly past Akuuki who was already walking up to his kill.

He pulled the arrow out and looked over at the other man. He had an arrow protruding from his back and was crawling towards a bow and quiver near one of the backpacks. Akuuki walked over to him and grabbed him by the scalp. In one swift motion he pulled his head back, revealing his throat, and slit it with a steel Spanish knife that he had taken from an enemy.

Now he was faced with a hard decision. He was counting on his cache to extend the search for his parents murderer. The unforgiving Mojave Desert didn’t allow for many setbacks. He still had a few days food left and was able to refill his canteens from the fresh springs there.

The murderer he sought had established a reputation as an evil shaman among the people. Almost everyone in the desert feared Atok the Cruel. It was rumored he could fly, or turn himself into a coyote if he wanted. His ability to shape shift was legendary among the Serrano who claimed the old man was immortal.

Akuuki did not fear Atok. He very much wanted to find him and to make him pay for brutally murdering his parents. He knew all the tales told at firesides about the shaman, but they didn’t scare him. His desire for revenge was all-consuming. After sending his parents off to the spirit world in proper fashion he set out after Atok.

From all the stories he heard Atok had a lair near the summit of the mountain called Avi-Kwame by the Mojave, and Yuman. His tribe, the Chemehuevi, called the place Agai. Stories of Atok’s cruelty terrified the children, and made adults uneasy at every telling.

It didn’t matter why he killed his parents. When neighbors suggested that Atok killed them because Akuuki was hunting in his sacred grounds, he angrily chased them away. He couldn’t live with himself unless he went after Atok, and at least, tried to kill him.

The thought that he might have been the reason for their violent death infuriated him.

It took him two days to reach Agai. Standing at the summit of the mountain he scanned upward but didn’t see anything that caught his attention. It occurred to him he would have to walk around the whole mountain to find where the shaman lived.

He was down to his last meal when he started searching the summit’s circumference. That night, after making a cold camp, he ate the last remaining slice of boiled plants and the hearts of mescal that were pounded into a slab by his mother months ago.

In a dream, a wild spotted cat came to him and whispered into his ear, “Of silver, Atok is in fear. It’s touch is enough to send him away from here.”

When he woke in the morning he looked at his knife. It was a fine Spanish blade and the handle was wrought from silver. His people were familiar with the white metal that almost made the white man as crazy as the yellow metal did a 100 years ago.

He felt a pang of hunger as he prepared himself for the day. An hour later he came upon a cave opening.

“Atok you coward! Come face me! I am Akuuki. I’ve come to kill you!” he shouted.

An arrow came from the darkness and struck him in his left shoulder! He staggered backward and broke the deeply embedded arrow off as he drew his knife. Atok was standing in the entrance with a bow and laughing at him!

“Fool! You dare search me out! For that, I will eat your eyeballs while you’re still breathing!” he roared, while running towards him.

Akuuki held his ground and took the charge! They thrashed about on the desert sand as Akuuki plunged his knife into Atok’s body without apparent effect. When they blade snapped off, he took the silver handle and shoved it into Atok’s mouth!

The effect was immediate; Atok’s body stiffened and began decaying on top of Akuuki! The gods were so pleased with the evil shaman’s death that the skies opened up and rained upon the Mojave Desert for the first time in a year.

When Akuuki, whose name translates to ancestor, died many years later his story became a legend told around campfires of the Chemehuevi.

As It Stands, this tale is a nod to Native Americans who’s rich verbal heritage includes classic stories of good versus evil.

The Graveyard Shift

gyw_machinist.jpg

The alarm clock sounded like a ship’s Klaxon horn as it assaulted Will’s ears at 10:00 p.m.

Will, a journeyman machinist, was one of three tool-makers at Pelcon Production.

When the night shift tool-maker asked Will to trade shifts – he worked days – he quickly agreed. It meant extra money, and he was really a night owl anyway. He only took the day position because that was all that was available when he was hired two-weeks ago.

Tonight was his first night on the new shift. He yawned and stretched out on his single bed. It shouldn’t take too long to get used to the new routine he told himself as he got up and stumbled into the bathroom.

It was a 30-minute drive to work, so he left at 11:15 to give himself plenty of time. He didn’t like to drive fast (those days were over), and set the cruise control at 60-mph; five miles under the speed limit.

He was the only car on the freeway. When he exited, he took a two-way lane out to a rural area that led to Pelcon Production’s football-sized workplace. The metal building was painted green with white trim. There was no sign explaining who owned it.

Will turned off the road and onto the private driveway leading to the parking lot outside the main entrance. There was generally only one person that worked on the graveyard shift.

That was the tool-maker. Sometimes, like when a special order came up, production workers had to work until an order was complete. That could be all night.

Tonight it was just Will. He parked next to the lone pickup truck in the parking lot, grabbed his lunch box and thermos, and went inside. He had to ring a bell to get in. The tool-maker he was relieving showed up shortly and opened the door.

“How you doing Greg?” Will asked the swing shift tool-maker.

“I’m doing fine, Will,” he answered, and gave him the keys to the building.

“Kinda strange seeing you go home, instead of coming to work,” Will said conversationally.

“Yeah, I guess you could call it strange. Get’s lonely here at night,” he observed, and went out the front door without waiting for a reply.

Will punched his time card in and went to his workstation. He sat down on a steel stool next to a metal lathe and drill press. There was a rolling toolbox crammed with every kind of instrument a master machinist needed, in his little area.

He picked up a blueprint that was laying next to the grinding table. The note attached had his name on it. He quickly scanned it, then studied the blueprint intently. The only light on in the shop (other than one in the front office) was the bar of neon lights directly above him.

When those neon lights began blinking on and off, Will stood up in alarm. A power surge? Then he saw a bright orange light on the other end of the shop. It glowed for a minute then disappeared. The neon light above stopped blinking and returned to normal.

He picked up the blueprint and sat back down on the stool. Before he had time to study it someone said,

“If you’ll notice, the human is following instructions on what to do…

“We have robots that do menial work like that,” another voice sarcastically said.

“What the hell?” Will cried out, falling off the stool unceremoniously.

A short oriental man and two teenagers were holding pamphlets and pointing at Will like he was a museum exhibit. For some reason, they acted like he couldn’t see, or hear, them.

“What the hell?” was all Will could manage again.

The oriental man scolded one of them and pointed back in the direction they came. The trio casually walked back to the other side of the building, in the direction the orange light was last seen.

Will questioned his sanity, or if he was just having a weird dream? When he bumped into the drill press while steadying himself he felt pain. It was no dream. Suddenly the neon light above began blinking again!

He watched as a bright orange light silhouetted the three visitors until they disappeared into it. The overhead light returned to normal. At that moment, Will knew he couldn’t say anything about what he’d seen, or he’d lose his job.

It was a terrible burden to live with. How did his predecessor, who was now on days, put up with it? Perhaps he never saw anything unusual? That wouldn’t bode too well for his own sanity though.

He’d have to ask him if he ever saw anything strange at night?

The next morning the day production crew and the tool-maker, Harold, arrived five minutes before their shift started. Will went up to Harold who was standing apart from the rest of the workers.

“Can I ask you a question Harold?” he asked.

“Depends,” the old man replied.

“Have you ever seen anything strange here at night?”

“Listen…I’m near retirement with this company. I don’t want to talk about strange happenings okay?” he pleaded.

Will let him go, and punched his time card out.

When it came time to go to work Will left earlier than usual. When he rang the bell Greg’s pale face seemed relieved it was him when he opened the door.

“Good to see you Will,” he said with a false sense of cheer.

“What’s the matter Greg? You look like you saw a ghost,” he asked.

“Not a ghost. Time travelers…” he blurted out, in spite of himself.

“I saw three people last night who ignored me completely and then disappeared in an orange light,” Will said. “You don’t have to worry about me thinking your crazy,” he reassured him.

“It’s been happening for months now. Ever since we started making these odd parts. By the way, did you ever notice you’re not informed on what the parts are for? The blueprints are unlike anything I’ve ever seen in 34 years of being a master machinist.”

“It seems like these time travelers only come by at night,” Will observed.

“Mostly on the graveyard shift. They seem to be coming earlier these last few days,” Greg offered,  punching his time card out and passing the keys to Will.

Will stood in the main office and realized he wasn’t afraid. He was curious. Once, long ago when he was still driving race cars, before he retired and became a tool-and-die maker, he was known as a dare-devil.

Off the track one day, he was trying to impress his girlfriend with his driving skills when a big rig truck jackknifed in front of them. He wasn’t able to slow down in time and they ran into it. She died instantly. He quit driving for a living that day.

He couldn’t count the times when he wished he could go back in time and change things. A thought came to him when he thought about the strange visitors and the orange light. What if the shop was a portal to other dimensions and time itself?

Instead of going to his work place Will walked to the other end of the building where he last saw the light. He stopped when he reached the end of the building and stood there waiting in the darkness.

When the orange light appeared he didn’t hesitate, and walked into it hoping for the best.

As It Stands, there’s an old saying, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”