Prelude To A Deadly Incident

Call centre in Newcastle.

Listen to this story as told by master story teller Otis Jiry.

Most of the people hired by the call center couldn’t find jobs elsewhere. They were society’s cast-offs. 

Each of the men and women in the call center had a story that led to their downfall in life. Being fired. Losing a job because of too much sick time. Losing jobs because of drugs. Petty criminals who never went beyond elementary school. Paroled criminals desperate for any job. Homeless people. Former street vendors who violated city rules and lost their licenses. Criminals. Gang members.

The one thing they all had in common was their need to make money.

So, they worked 12-hour shifts in a brightly lit warehouse dotted with workstations and only two ten-minute breaks. They read from scripts urging people to buy everything from insurance to vacation homes in the Bahamas. The products they promoted were generally scams. Supervisors roamed the floor like trolls, trying to catch someone not doing their job. The constant buzz of voices intermingling sounded like a colony of bees on a busy day. There was no air conditioning. The big overhead fans cycled so laboriously they threatened to spin-off their shafts.

Lucas felt his bladder bulging. When he could wait no longer he signaled for his last break of the shift. On the way to the men’s room he felt a growing anger with the world. After relieving himself and buying a bottle of water from a vending machine he went back to his workstation. The county health department kicked him out of the psychiatric program because he kept fighting with other patients.

Once released, he tried begging on street corners until he realized no one was going to stop for him. He figured it was his bald head that was festooned with tattoos of comic book characters. Whatever the reason, he had to try something else or starve. That’s when he saw the ad for the call center on a community billboard.

When he applied all they asked for was his name and social security number. His female interviewer did ask a few other basic questions, then outlined what his job would be. He half-listened to her while staring at her breasts. Nasty thoughts wiggled through his consciousness. He stuffed them down like snakes in a snake-charmer’s basket, trying to pay better attention to what she was saying.

“We pay $8.00 an hour. Do you have any questions?” she asked.

“Yeah…I don’t remember what you said about lunch.

“That’s because I didn’t say anything about having one. We don’t. Like I said before, you get two ten-minutes breaks every 12-hour shift. You can take them when you want to. That’s our policy.

“When can I start?”

“Monday. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you’re late more than twice your fired. I’ll see you then.”

Lucas spent the weekend going through back alleys behind restaurants in search of food. He slept on a bench in the community park, using old newspapers for a blanket. When Monday arrived he was ten-minutes early to his new job.

The day flew by and before he knew it, the week was over and he was given a paycheck. He had to pay to get it cashed. After state and federal taxes he was left with $365. It was like a fortune! The first thing he did was rent a room by the week as close to the call center as he could. It left him with $115.00 for food and whatever. For the first time in years he smiled. It hurt his face.

Three months later he was still in the same room. It was the longest he’d lived inside somewhere since he was in the county program. He was wearing new clothes and shoes, not cast-offs from other people.  He was able to take a shower everyday. He could afford to eat out a couple of times a week. And he wasn’t happy.

He hated his supervisor at work.

Not because he was a homosexual. It was the fact that he wouldn’t stop hitting on him. He turned him down gently numerous times, but Lane didn’t seem to get the message, or he chose to ignore it. His constant sexual innuendos were grating on his patience. The fact that he was still there after three months was a testimony to how much he wanted to make money.

But he had limits. He exceeded those limits before and bad things happened to him. He was arrested and did short stints in different county jails. Lucas was a tall lean man without an ounce of fat on his frame. His sallow cheeks, thin aristocratic nose, and recessed eye sockets gave his face a skeletal look that was enhanced by his bald head. There was a look of wildness in his dark brown eyes that seldom blinked.

One day, while he was on his 10-minute break and taking a piss, the men’s room door opened and Lane came in. He walked up to the urinal next to Lucas and unzipped his pants.

“I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” he said coyly.

Something snapped in Lucas! The resulting carnage made the little room look like a slaughter house afterward. There were blood splattered walls, urinals, and stalls. Lane looked like a ragged doll with it’s face smashed into something unrecognizable. Lucas was covered in his blood when he stumbled out of the room and past the vending machines.

A woman in a nearby workstation looked over and saw Lucas. Her screams caused instant panic. A frightened herd mentality took over and 300 people left their stations at the same time. In the mass confusion, Lucas made it outside and ran down the street before anyone could stop him. He ran for miles through the city streets and alleys before finally stopping on the outskirts of town near a community forest.

He bent down, hands on his knees, and took deep gulps of air. His head slowly cleared. He touched the still-sticky blood on his shirt and knew he’d done it again. This time looked worse than the others from the amount of blood he had all over him. He suspected Lane was no longer alive. It wouldn’t be a county jail this time. Maybe prison for life. Maybe a death sentence.

He looked for a gas station with restrooms and washed his hands and face before the busy attendant could notice him. Still wearing his blood-soaked clothes he made his way down back alleys until he came to a service dock for the Salvation Army. There were bins of donating clothing piling up outside, waiting to be sorted and tagged. He went through the piles expertly and selected a long-sleeved shirt and pair of torn jeans. No one working there paid any attention to him.

He used the last of his money to buy a bus ticket to another state; Florida. He heard there were plenty of call centers there, and hoped to get a job again. Like always, he had to be careful another incident didn’t happen. He knew he was lucky to get away from the last one. As long as people didn’t mess with him, he knew he could lead a quiet and happy life.

As It Stands, I sometimes wonder how many Lucas’s live among us?

The Ladies of the Lake

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Not far from Lake Minnetonka, in Minnesota, there’s a smaller lake east of it that few (if any) tourists have ever seen. The locals say it’s haunted by three women, and avoid going there. If the lake ever had a name, no one knows what it is now.

North of the lake, a 30-mile trek away, is White Earth Lake. A young man born on the Indian reservation that surrounded it, desperately wanted to see the world. He was part of the White Earth Ojibwe Band, and expected to live his whole life there. But the urge to leave coursed threw his veins, and his blood boiled for adventure.

His native name was Niimi (He is dancing). His white name was Roger. In school, everyone had to answer to their white names. Afterwards, the moment they left school, they went by their “real” names.

Niimi was a reader. It was why he was so smart. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge and was able to retain what he learned. He loved mysteries and studied stories that were passed down by the Ojibwe elders. Tales from the ancient days when the People lived in harmony with Mother Earth.

One day he had an epiphany. He’d tell his family and friends that he wanted to go on a vision quest. It would give him the reason he needed to leave the reservation, and it could provide direction for his future. He was ready to seek his guardian spirit, who he could call on for protection and guidance. It had been many years since someone in the tribe set out on a sacred vision quest, and the elders were pleased that someone so well-schooled in their culture was undertaking it. Although they felt he should be a little older, they agreed to hold the ceremony.

When the rising sun-kissed White Earth Lake’s surface the next morning Niimi set out on his quest…for adventure. He was dressed in leather britches and jacket. He wore a pair of beaded moccasins with good luck tokens sewn into them.

Two days, and 30-miles later, Niimi came upon the nameless lake. When the locals told him it was haunted, he felt a thrill of excitement. This was a challenge he decided, and made a crude camp by the lake.

That night he had weird dreams. He was talking with a woman who was promising him crazy things like immortality, and the ability to fly, or to stay underwater for as long as he liked without having to breathe air. When he awoke in the morning his clothes were wet. Not damp. Soaking wet. He scrambled to his feet and jumped around shaking himself dry under the newly arrived sun.

Instead of being worried about why he was wet, Niimi recalled the stories the locals told him. He didn’t remember anything about water witches though. Just that there were three women who guarded the nameless lake. Unlike most men in his tribe, he didn’t fear the unknown.

The next night he tried to stay awake, but succumbed to sleep by midnight. His dreams were chaotic and violent. He was flying over the tree tops looking down at a herd of buffalo being chased by hunters with spears and arrows. He could hear the cries of the hunters as they brought a big bull down. The swirling dust made his eyes gritty. The thrill of the chase increased his heartbeat…and then he woke up in his campsite next to the lake. His eyes burned as he looked around.

Afterwards, he walked along the lake’s shore wondering what his dreams meant. As exciting as they were, he longed to know if the lake was really haunted. Thus far, he hadn’t seen any ghosts. Yet, the locals insisted they were there. He’d gone five days without food, hoping it would give him a vision. His body was so weakened he quit walking and sat down by the lake, staring out at its shimmering surface with glassy eyes.

That night as he lay barely conscious by the smoldering fire pit in his camp, three woman came to him. They wore diaphanous dresses that accentuated their lithe bodies as they walked across the lake, and on land to his camp.

“How much longer before this human dies from lack of food and our nightly bloodletting?” one of the women asked the other two.

“It’s hard to say sister. This human has a strong spirit.” another one commented.

In spite of his condition, Niimi heard their voices and struggled to focus his eyes as they peered down at him. His first thought was they were beautiful. They all had full red lips and pale faces that were expressionless. All three had pale blue eyes that watched him struggle to sit up.

None of them wanted him to die…and least not until someone else came along. Human blood was the ultimate intoxicant for them. They seldom got visitors because people feared the place. When they did, they tried their best to make the experience last as long as possible before draining the victim’s final lifeblood. It had been decades since the last victim stumbled into their domain. Niimi’s blood was a special treat after that long drought.

In spite of his weakened condition he recalled a tale one of the elders told him about supernatural beings. That if he could drink their blood he would be strong enough to banish them to hell where they belonged. Summoning up the last of his strength he spoke, “Ladies of the Lake, I am Niimi your loyal servant. If you could each give me a little of your blood, I could continue serving you longer instead of dying right now.”

The three were startled by the request and argued among themselves for a while before coming to a decision. When they did, each one used a fingernail to slash their own wrists.

“Come, drink then human,” one offered as she held her bloody wrist out.

Without hesitation Niimi sucked on the proffered wrist. When she stepped aside the second offered hers, and by the time he was sucking on the third’s wrist he felt a hot powerful surge course through his veins! Night turned to-day. He could understand what the animals in the nearby forest were saying.

Power incarnate made his bronze face glow. The sisters, sensing something had gone wrong, hurdled together and watched his transformation with their pale blue eyes. When he finally turned his attention on them they could see the mistake they made. In their eagerness they ignored the law of blood. Their mixed blood took him to another level of awareness. And power over them.

He slowly stretched. Never taking his eyes off the three women. They turned in fear, as if to go back in the lake, when he clapped his hands together and sent them straight to hell!

As It Stands, evil is meant to be destroyed by heroes in all cultures.

Paladin: Enemy of the State

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You’ve probably seen wanted posters with my photo on them.

The state police have them posted everywhere. I went to a 24-hour laundromat the other day and saw myself stuck on the communal poster board surrounded by business cards. Of course I no longer look like that photo. I wouldn’t be talking with you right now if I did. Someone would have turned me in for the reward.

I dyed my brown hair blond, cut it different, and grew a straggly beard. With the help of contacts I changed the color of my eyes from brown to blue. I also lost a lot of weight. Running will do that to you. Before I forget, my name is Paladin. Just Paladin, with no first name.

I use to be a professor at Cal State University in Fullerton, California, back in 2024. But I lost my job and almost my life, when I became a public activist for Free Speech on campus. Bad things were happening in our government and most Americans lived in fear. How we digressed from being a democracy to an authoritarian state is a long story. Suffice to say, that where we’re at today.

Back then I thought there was still hope that the America I grew up in would return someday. That good people wouldn’t be afraid to stand up to racists and evil ideologies. I even thought (what a fool) that if we voted the bad guys out in elections, the good guys would win and restore democracy. I wasn’t aware that elections were rigged at the time.

When I later found out that a secret coup had taken place in the White House, my natural response was to speak out. I warned my students that America was in a crisis. Some responded, but most sat there with dull eyes and waited for me to change the subject. They were the sons and daughters of the new regime, whose parents blindly followed the new masters out of fear, or they were brainwashed by the constant government propaganda.

It was a lonely feeling watching our freedoms slip away after generations of Americans had fought and died for them. I quickly recognized that the media was under government control, like everything else in America. I wish I could pinpoint a day, or even an incident, and say, “This is where it all began.” I can’t. There’s so many things that happened right under our noses. It was like an infection; getting worse all the time.

In private discussions with my colleagues we tried to narrow down the road we took to get here. Some suggested that President Donald Trump was the turning point. Even though he was impeached 28 months after taking office, his legacy continued with the next president who defeated incumbent former vice president Pence. She was a Democrat who turned the clock back to the bad old days of Dixiecrats. After one term she lost to an Independent who restructured the government, giving him complete power. He, the bastard’s name is Bork, is still in power, and thriving.

It was his goons, when he took over our Republic, who came for me years ago. If it wasn’t for a loyal student, they would have caught me as I walked out to my car after class. Instead, I called a friend and he picked me up a block from campus where I was waiting by a bus stop. That’s the day my career as a Professor Paladin ended, and I had to go underground.

The days of public dissent against the government are long gone. I try to keep track of the numerous resistance groups, moving from one to another, as I go from state-to-state encouraging people to organize and reclaim their freedoms. I’m physically slowing down at 83-years-old, but my mind remains as sharp as ever.

Everywhere I go people plead with me to be their leader. It seems I’ve earned a reputation. President Paladin sounds odd to me though. I’m an organizer. Not a leader of men, I tell them. I encourage them to select a brave and honest person that will capture men and women’s hearts. It would be my honor, I explain, to share my knowledge with that special person. After years of being on the run across the country, I learned many valuable things. Like information about weaknesses at city armories, and how to cripple computer communication centers in every state.

One of the things I was able to do and keep myself somewhat grounded in academia, was to hold underground classes in several subjects. My favorite was literature. Listeners never got tired of discussing George Orwell’s masterpiece, “1984″ and Ray Bradbury’s classic, Fahrenheit 451. It was no wonder, however. They were living in a time that rivaled those two dystopian books.

I wish I could say America will be saved someday. I wish I could tell you that in my travels I saw the unity it would take for people to regain their freedoms. It’s not reality. What’s currently happening is a terrible irony.

The new regime under Premier Bork has completely sealed off the country’s two borders with massive walls (north and south) and armed security guards patrol them day and night. No one comes in, and no one goes out without permission. Passes to leave the country for any reason are scrutinized by Bork’s minions. Few are granted. Only those with connections to Bork are allowed to travel – and then for no more than three days.

By writing this journal I hope it will inspire people and help them understand what’s happened in this once free society. It’s important to document the disease that infected our politician’s minds to understand the road they took to get us here. I’ve got a stash of videos showing how far our fall was. Some go as far back as WW II. I carry the key to the hidden vault that holds those videos.

My biggest regret, before my time comes, is that people never got organized enough to turn the tide of history and restore democracy in our once proud Republic.

LAST ENTRY

They’ve got me surrounded. I’m putting this journal into the vault with the videos. Hopefully someday they’ll be discovered and possibly inspire a new generation. Until then, this is Paladin, enemy of the state.

As It Stands, democracy must always guard against authoritarian regimes – here, and abroad.

Treavor’s Ark 2167: The Exodus

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It was the biggest spaceship ever built.

It was the vision of Treavor Lancehold, a reclusive billionaire who hoped to bring two of every species that were still left on the dying planet, along with his family and skilled followers, to another world to start over.

Earth was under siege from the elements. Floods, droughts, volcanos, hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes were happening where they never did before. Arctic glaciers that were millions of years old disappeared, and the ocean’s waters rose and islands slipped beneath the waters never to be seen again. Coasts worldwide gave way to the sea, reclaiming the land and creating new beaches.

It was during these trying times for humanity that Treavor finally completed his massive ship – the Ark – after ten years of construction. It had the latest technology, allowing it to take off under its own nuclear power, unlike the old days when rocket boosters were used. It only needed a large flat space to land on. There was no need for runways.

When Treavor first began construction, he was mocked by most of the world. They called him a cult-figure with mindless followers. When he went to the U.N. to present his project so that others could learn how to make one, they laughed so hard that they couldn’t hear his presentation. He doggedly finished it, and then left to go back to Oregon.

As the years passed the elements got worse and major tragedies caused by flooding and other elemental disturbances were daily events across the globe. Disaster, after disaster, drained governments resources and emergency supplies.

Treavor carefully selected people with skills in science, agriculture, geology, physics, electricity, literature, history, engineering, psychology, construction, and medicine. He made it a requirement for a man and a woman to work (and live together) in each field. The couples agreed to use birth control until they landed on a new world and colonized it.

Word had been circulating around the world for a year that the ark was nearly complete. Former skeptics contacted Treavor and pleaded to come. He turned them all down because he’d already selected a crew. Along with the experts, he brought his wife and twin sons.

A week before departure, hordes of desperate people showed up in Bend, Oregon, where the ark sat waiting for its maiden voyage. Treavor had to turn on the force fields around the gigantic ship to prevent them from crawling all over it like ants. The crew tried to stay focused on completing their last-minute tasks, but it was hard to see the naked desperation in the eyes of thousands of people clustered outside the invisible shield.

A day before the scheduled departure, a squadron of fighter jets and bombers tested the shield. It held despite the all-day assault. The carnage outside of the shield was a sight the crew would never forget. Bodies as far as they could see lay mangled by collateral fire, and the bombs that rocked the earth for miles. Historians one day would document the demise of the innocents, whose only crime was their governments were too stupid to take a proactive stance to what was happening on Earth.

The Ark cruised through galaxies looking for a planet where humans could survive. Treavor was the oldest person on board, and his health was failing him after they left Earth two years ago. His wisdom was universally acknowledged among the crew. His even sense of temper and compassion earned him the love of everyone on the Ark.

Knowing his days were numbered, Treavor drew up a will, leaving his twin sons with equal authority and in charge of the expedition. Rufus and Mathew were like night and day. The twins seldom agreed on anything. Neither processed all of the qualities of their revered father. Each had some good points, but one of them, Mathew, had a terrible temper, unlike his father.

When the inevitable day arrived and Treavor died during his sleep, the whole crew went into mourning for a week. They released his body to the cosmos in a simple but stately ceremony.

It only took a month before the two brothers clashed about something. Mathew wanted to colonize a planet that already had an intelligent species, because the atmosphere was perfect for humans. According to the rules for colonization set down by Treavor, they couldn’t disrupt a planet that already was inhabited by a civilization. Rufus refused to murder aliens, and stuck by his father’s stated rule. This incident produced a tension that grew worse as the weeks passed.

Mathew gathered together crew members who agreed with him about colonizing the next planet if the atmosphere was right; even if it meant committing genocide against a whole world.

Rufus was aware of what was going on with the small group Mathew assembled. He was smart enough to realize a confrontation was inevitable and spent hours thinking about his response. He knew the first thing to happen would be an attempt to take over the control room so he armed six men and tasked them with protecting it. New security for the bridge was instituted in case of an attack.

Two months passed before another possible candidate for colonization appeared. It had the required atmosphere but was inhabited by an alien race in its infancy.

It was the chance Mathew and his cronies were waiting for. Their attack was met with equal force as deadly lasers tore through flesh and metal. Computers were destroyed in the carnage and the great Ark slowly came to a stop, floating like space flotsam in the solar system.

Mankind’s hope for redemption was shattered, as the crippled Ark drifted silently in space for eternity.

As It Stands, hope for humanity rests with those who recognize the perils of pollution and climate change, and prepare accordingly.

The Traveler’s Strange Tale

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Tonya, and I, are travelers who’ve seen a strange thing or two.

We’ve trekked through the harsh outback of Australia, traversing the arid ‘red center’ to the tropical lands of the north. We’ve braved the scorching sands of the Sudan and rode camels in Egypt. For ten years now, we’ve traveled the world in a non-stop quest for adventure.

For the last year we’ve been thinking about writing a book on our travels. We’re hesitant however. The problem is we’ve seen some supernatural things that, if we talked about them, might lead the reader to think we’re a couple of loonies. I’m for documenting those encounters with the unknown, but Tonya is worried people won’t take the book seriously if I do. Her argument is that the book would end up in the fiction section, instead of the non-fiction travel section.

She’s agreed to let me tell you about one strange encounter to see what your reaction is. Go ahead, and get comfortable, while I tell you about the werewolf community we met in the Western Carpathians. I believe we were in Slovakia – it could have been Hungary – when we came upon a tiny village in the middle of nowhere.

It was in the spring and we were trekking on foot. Wildflowers paved the hills as we walked along, sometimes spotting a deer, or squirrel, as we enjoyed the sunny day. As we came to a crest of one hill we saw a small village that could have been something out of a guide to 17th century living for peasants. The crude thatched huts sat on both sides of a muddy street. At one end there was a communal well.

A dozen men were working in the nearby fields planting next year’s crop of wheat. Sitting in the front of the only stone building were two old man with long clay pipes watching us with curiosity as we approached.

Tonya, who knows 16 languages, called out to the men. When she picked the right language a lively conversation followed. Their names were Arpad and Nandor. Arpad was the village’s mayor. I was amused watching Arpad talk with Tonya because he had a habit of pulling on his knee-length beard when he got excited. Every now and then Nandor would pipe in for a moment before giving way to Arpad again.

They welcomed us warmly and we ate a meal at the mayor’s house. When we finished Arpad sat down in front of the fireplace and beckoned us to sit near him on a wooden bench. His wife brought us all a small glass of Palinka made from plums.

“We’d be honored if you’d spend the night here. There is no tavern. Tonight is a not a good night to camp out. It’s a full moon,” Arpad told us.

Tonya, whose bolder than I, asked what he meant by suggesting a full moon was somehow sinister?

Arpad looked over at his wife who was quietly knitting. I could tell he was wrestling with something, but he couldn’t quite get it out. Finally, after a long awkward pause, he said there was a pack of wolves nearby that hunted during full moons. I thought it was an odd excuse but moved on when the conversation shifted. It was almost midnight when we went to the bedroom they provided us with.

“Please. Lock your door. Dobrú noc,” Arpads wife said.

Tonya and I both felt uneasy as we got into the bed. Shortly thereafter, we heard a wolf howl. Then another. And another. We sprang from the bed and went to the window in time to see a group of naked men transforming into animals. Wolves to be exact. The process looked agonizing as their limbs twisted and reformed.

The largest of the pack stood up on his hind legs and howled at the moon. Soon they were all standing and howling with great enthusiasm. We noticed a wooden cage near the pack of werewolves. One of them, the biggest and probably the leader, opened the cage and pulled a terrified man out!

The leader then pointed towards a tree line and growled “Go!”

The man broke out into a loping run towards the forest. He was almost there when the leader encouraged the others to go after him. Their animalistic shouts of joy froze Tonya and I’s blood.

We knew there was no where to go, so we resigned ourselves to being in the locked room. Neither of us could sleep as we waited for the sun to rise. At first light we grabbed our backpacks and left the room. Arpad and his wife were already up and sitting at a table drinking dark coffee.

He got up and pulled over two chairs.

“Come eat with us before you go!” Arpad offered.

It was a traditional meal of Slovakian bread with butter, ham, cheese, boiled eggs, salami, vegetables, sausages and honey to round it out. I was surprised how hungry I was and dug in eagerly. The sausage was excellent, the ham tasty, the cheese zesty, the eggs just right, and the bread was fresh and hot.

Tonya wasn’t as hungry and just picked at her food. Afterwards our host wished us good travels and asked a question; “Did you like the sausage? Our hunters were successful last night.” 

Somehow, Tonya and I kept from retching. We didn’t want to offend Arpad and end up being served for breakfast ourselves! After our farewells we set out at a quick pace. We weren’t exactly running…but I think it was a record for miles walked in a day for us.

I remember we got within eyesight of Castle Bran (also called Dracula’s castle). It was built on a steep cliff between Magura and Dealul Cetatii. The imposing castle looked down into the Moeciu Valley where we were trekking along.

Tales of Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes) filled out thoughts as we looked for a place to camp for the night. Oh wait! I was just supposed to tell one story.

We had other strange encounters during our travels, and I expect we’ll have more in the future. So, I’ll leave it up to you. Should we document these stories or just talk about good places to eat?

As It Stands, happy travels, my friend!

I Tear Down Haunted Houses For A Living

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Who would have guessed that there was a market for tearing down haunted houses?

I’ve been in the construction trade since I was a teenager. I learned how to build and tear down (there really is an art to taking things apart and recycling) commercial buildings and homes.

But it wasn’t my years of experience that got me my first job tearing down a haunted mansion in New Jersey. No. just dumb luck. I heard a rumor and followed it up. Turned out that there was a dilapidated Victorian mansion on the outskirts of a small town near Trenton, New Jersey, and no one wanted the job of leveling the old eyesore.

The owners of the house wanted to use the land for other purposes but couldn’t find anyone to do the job. The house had a bad reputation and locals firmly believed it was haunted. They ran ads offering twice the normal fees to wreck it, but no one seemed interested.

How could I resist that? Some fools believed in ghosts and were offering a damn good reward for taking the place apart. I’ve always recognized an opportunity and seized upon this one. The owners were delighted when I showed up with my crew of four men to take the job. We were all from upstate New York. I didn’t bother telling my crew that the place was supposedly haunted.

I didn’t waste any time renting a wrecking ball, but by the time we got to the house it was getting dark. I rented it for two days, so I wasn’t concerned. I had one of the guys, Ralph,  camp out next to it so no vandals could cause problems. I paid him extra to do that. It was one of the reasons the crew liked to work for me. As bosses go, I’m generous. The rest of us rented rooms in a nearby motel.

Like always, I woke up early and got ready for the day as the sun rose outside of my thinly curtained window. There’s something about starting a new project that I love. Not the guarantee of money (although I admit it helps), it’s the adventure. You never know what you’re going to find, or how long a project will take. My estimates are usually pretty close, but with the owners paying double, I knew it was going to be profitable job.

I ate a light breakfast and left before the rest of the crew. It was a short drive to the house. Along the way I noticed gathering clouds in the distance, but was relying on the local weatherman’s reports that said there wouldn’t be any rain for at least a week. As I pulled up I could see right away something was wrong. The boom was facing the wrong way. I jumped out of the truck and ran over to it and saw the steel wrecking ball was down… and on top of Ralph!

I was too shocked to move at first. I snapped out of it and started the rig up and raised the ball up and then away from Ralph’s remains. I moved it away from his body and lowered the ball back to the ground. As I turned it off, I wondered why someone would do this. It was obviously no accident. I called the police and waited.

Three weeks later.

The investigation at the crime scene and ensuing media holiday were over when I returned with my crew. The original three were spooked by what happened but agreed to come when I offered more money. The new man was eager to get to work. When we got to the house I had the men work inside, salvaging flooring and a stairway. I then went to the construction company and rented a boom. It was the same one that killed Ralph but they only had two, and the other was rented out.

When I returned there was an ambulance and a fire engine in front of the mansion. I ran over to the ambulance and peaked inside. The new guy was lying there unconscious with bandages around his head and ribs. The E.M.T.s were filling out a report when I asked what happened?

They told me he fell from the second story staircase. Just then one of the crew came over to me. It was Jerry, one of my oldest employees. There was fear in his eyes.

“Something pushed him from behind,” he said, looking me straight in the eye.

“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.

“Tony, Bob, and I were downstairs when we heard the new guy scream. I looked up and saw him fighting to keep his balance, but something pushed him!” his voice rose.

“Okay! Take it easy Jerry,” I told him.

A day later.

The new guy survived with a concussion and three broken ribs. I paid his hospital bill and sent him home. Jerry and Bob quit. I couldn’t blame them. That left Tony, who apparently needed the money more than the other two, and who could control his misgivings.

We grimly dismantled the stairs and salvaged the rest of the wood from the first floor. After working all day without taking a break we completed our task. The sun was sinking into the west and it’s dying light streamed through the broken shutters, causing shadows inside the old house.

Tony was closest to the front door when someone shouted at us from above!

“Damn scoundrels! You won’t get away with this!” a dark figure on the second floor roared. We went out that front door like two missiles launched from Cape Canaveral! I suddenly became a believer in ghosts. When I calmed down outside a thought hit me and I started up the rig. I’m not sure how many times I let that massive ball tear into the old Victorian. It didn’t take long to turn it into rubble.

I wasn’t going to let my first haunted house project fail. Yeah, I could have salvaged a lot more, but everything considered, I still turned a nice profit. The last I saw of Tony he was running down the road. I really hope he shows up someday, so I can pay him. I hate loose ends.

As It Stands, there’s nothing like good old American ingenuity.

The Scent of Humanity

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The New People inherited the Earth somewhere between the fall of civilization and the rise of robots. The New People were also referred to as cyborgs; a term that they loathed. 

During the last days of civilization a group of American scientists successfully planted a living human brain inside a robotic body that had an advanced computer embedded in its systems. It powered a combination of electric motors, pneumatics, levers, and hydraulics. The marrying of technologies allowed for human-like limb movement, increased strength, and endurance.

With the help of the first successful cyborg, scientists turned out twenty more cyborgs, who in turn helped create fifty more. After the last nuke destroyed the tunnels where the scientists were working, production stopped. The 71 cyborgs escaped the destruction. Mankind’s final day came and went with no one to record it. Except the cyborgs who agreed to call themselves the New People.

All of the New People had special skills with their separate brains. They were all superior in a myriad of technologies. All of them were individuals that were once part of the now extinct human race. The conversion, from whole human to a hybrid being wasn’t easy. Part of their number suffered with depression. The rest struggled to establish a new society.

The first phase of adapting lasted decades. Five of their number committed suicide during those troubling days of seeking a new life. With their engineering skills they erected new buildings and laboratories powered by solar generators. It wasn’t long before they were turning out a new generation of New People.

The new ones looked more human with latex skin instead of a steel exterior. They even had hair. The only difference was they didn’t have a human brain. They had a substitute that the scientists artificially created and programmed. Because of this, the new generation was used like slaves, doing all the hard labor the New People once had to. They didn’t have names. Just numbers.

The 76 remaining original New People set themselves up as Gods, and had grand palaces built to satisfy their egos. Their human brains caused them to be unpredictable and violent. The only thing they agreed upon among themselves is that they were superior beings meant to rule.

Meanwhile, factories turned out hundreds of new generation subjects daily. They were immediately assigned tasks. They worked in units, like ants, each faithfully carrying out its mission. Their basic programing left little room for independent thought.

The First New People prided themselves on their individuality. But, their human brains still had the flaws that destroyed the human race. Because of that, their entertainment became more cruel over the years.

A rising sport was making slaves fight one another to the death. In order to do this they had to program their gladiators to have enough independent thought that they could react to being attacked by counter-attacking. The more independent thought the First New People allowed their play toys, the more dangerous they became.

A giant stadium was built to house the increasing size of the slave battles. The spectacular setting was witness to hundreds of contestants fighting for survival. The winners were locked up afterwards. There were no rewards for putting on a good show. They had no choice. It was win, or die. They were created to fight. Nothing more.

The First New People’s vanity blinded them to the danger they were creating when they allowed more independent thought among favorite slaves.

It came to pass that one slave, Number 991, had enough sense to realize how hopeless his existence was. He wanted to be free. It took him years to arrange an uprising. When the day came, the destruction of the 76 First New People was complete when the entire arena overwhelmed them!

Number 991’s rallying cry was simple; “Don’t leave the slightest scent of humanity on this Earth, if you want to be free.”

As It Stands, the lesson here is mankind is often his own worst enemy.