You Better Watch Out!

redwoods.jpg

CNS Reality Show – You Better Watch Out

Episode 10What an Ugly Surprise 

Lester the Jester was slowing down. His two giant pursuers meanwhile were still methodically following him. They were much slower. The only hope they had of catching him was their unreal endurance. They never stopped plodding after him. Day, and night. He’d run far ahead of them to get a few minutes rest before moving on again.

The cameras didn’t miss a detail, offering viewers split screens with close-ups and panoramic shots. The giants, two Ekons from Mars, were making their television debut and already had a legion of fans after nine episodes. This tenth installment featured a new character for the giants to chase and kill. Lester the Jester, as the promoters called him, was an earthling who volunteered as a way to get out of prison and a life sentence. He didn’t complain when the director made him wear a silly court jester costume complete with floppy hat. He was ready for a quick death and although it was unlikely, possible freedom.

All he had to do was kill the giants before they killed him. Although he wasn’t given any weapons to start with, the show’s creators did hide a few weapons in the valley where he was headed. They were careful to add to the drama by giving Lester a chance to survive. Thus far, every character that the giants went after they killed. The victim’s demise was always gruesome.

After scaling a series of hills, Lester came down into a valley. Halfway down the last hill he stopped and surveyed the rough terrain ahead. There was a river running through the center of the valley which was heavily forested as far as he could see. The giant redwoods looked like silent sentinels as he entered the forest which was bathed under the light of a full moon.

The mighty Sequoia sempervirens stood as high as 350-feet, and seemed to reach out into the night sky and embrace the stars. There was no doubt that he’d be harder to detect in the heavy undergrowth. He knew the Ekons were famous for their sense of smell, and he couldn’t count on hiding in one place too long. Instead he focused his energies into looking for hidden weapons. Hours later he sat down at the base of one of the trees feeling discouraged when he noticed a glint of light reflect off of something in a massive root. It was a hunting knife. His joy was short lived as he realized the knife wouldn’t do him much good against one, let alone two, Ekons that were eager to chew on his bones.

But, it would help him sharpen broken tree limbs that could be used in traps. As a hunter, Lester traveled the world and solar system before running afoul of earth’s hunting laws and killing a game warden. That was his ticket to prison and now perhaps a grisly death. It was an accident, but it didn’t matter. The court ground him up and spit him out into a harsh penal system for life. When the producer of “You Better Watch Out!” came to visit him, he recognized it was his last chance. He knew he never could break out of the prison.

The Ekons were brothers. Both Martians stood 12-feet tall and were heavily muscled and so dense they each weighed over a ton. In addition, earth’s gravity slowed them down. But once they got their hands on someone it was over. They felt confident that they’d get through their last challenge easily to win the grand prize. When they ascended to the valley they were surprised to see a new type of terrain. Neither had ever hunted in such an imposing forest and both were in awe at first. They bent their heads back, squat necks straining to look up, and marveled at the great heights.

The Econs were there for the glory and the money. For Lester it was all about survival. There was no longer a need for him to run. He could now try to turn the tide with traps and some luck. He started off with a basic trap. A punji pit. It required digging a hole and lining the bottom with sharpened sticks. He picked a place a few yards in front of one of the trees and went to work digging the soft loam with his knife. As he placed the last stick he heard a voice. The Econs were coming. He nimbly scrambled out of the four-foot by six foot-deep trench and back up to the tree’s base, holding his knife up defiantly and waited.

It didn’t take long. The younger brother appeared first and quickly spotted Lester. He let out a happy shout and moved steadily towards him. For a moment, he thought the Econ was going to sidestep the trap, but suddenly the giant’s legs plunged down and were impaled by the stakes. He roared in agony as his brother appeared. Not wasting a moment, Lester ran up to the giant and slashed his throat as he was thrashing about in agony! His brother roared in rage and reached out, almost grasping Lester before he eluded him and ran deeper into the forest.

After a few minutes he quit running and slowed down to a walk. He didn’t hear any pursuit. The older brothers wail of grief and anger boomed through the forest and he picked up his pace again. Along the way he picked up sticks to sharpen later. He noticed a CNS Drone with camera hovering over him as he continued to stealthily stalk through the thick underbrush. He was exhausted. Only the adrenalin coursing through his veins kept him moving. Fear was a great motivator.

To his horror, the older Econ was making up ground on him. He could hear his beastly grunts as he thrashed his way through the forest. Even fear wasn’t going to keep him moving forever, however. Then he saw a spear sticking out of a tree straight ahead. He had to jump to pull it out and was gasping for air when the older Ekon appeared a few yards away.

The two enemies stared at one another as the CNS drone hovered nearby. The Econ was the first to move forward. Lester waited for his slow motion charge and braced the spear on the ground by his foot for leverage. It barely pierced the giant’s scaly hide over the heart. As the Ekon pulled it out, he let go, pulled his knife out and threw it at the giant’s head. The blade penetrated his eye and stuck in his skull. His screams were terrible as he gripped the knife to pull it out. Lester recovered the spear and ran it into the giant’s other eye! A thick arm caught him as it thrashed around, and sent him flying for a few feet. He landed with broken ribs from the force of the blow.

As he lay gasping for air the CNS drone hovered overhead and he could hear the announcers voice.

“Viewers, we have a winner! Lester the Jester has defied the odds and earned his freedom.”

“All right! Now get someone here to take me to a hospital,” Lester said to the drone.

“I’m sorry,” the announcer’s voice replied. “You don’t seem to understand. You’re free to go, but transportation isn’t provided in your contract. Good day Lester, and from the folks at “You Better Watch Out,” good luck!”

As It Stands, the devil is in the details.

Hunting for ‘X’ In All The Wrong Places

RXgaOxy

He watched the government agent loitering outside the bank. Waiting for him. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the agent’s private number. When the agent answered his phone there was a loud explosion!

A CIA bunker somewhere in Virginia.

“All right! Listen up! As you know you’ve been selected to be a part of a task force to take out X. I will tell you that you’re not the first team we’ve sent out for him. Two others have failed.”

“What happened to those teams?” one of the new members asked the instructor.

“They’re dead. Does that scare you Adams?”

“No, sir. Just curious.”

“Good! Now that you know, keep your trap shut and listen to the intel I’m going to be giving you, and the rest of the team in the coming weeks. Your lives depend upon it. We’ve learned from our encounters with X. He’s an international player with no country or cause that we can tell. He kills, and steals, for huge sums. He’s a master of multiple martial arts. Speaks dozens of languages, and has no family or friends that we can find. I hate to admit it, but we don’t even know what he looks like.

“How could that…?” Adams started to speak, then saw the instructor’s frown and stopped.

“Our quarry is a master of disguise, even going so far as to using mechanical exoskeletons to change his height and body size. We were able to confiscate one of the exoskeletons when we discovered one of his hiding places in Germany. No manufacturer’s marks. Our tech team thinks he built it himself.”

In the ensuing days of training the instructor, Major Jim Langhorn a longtime operative himself, put the recruits through their paces, challenging them mentally and physically until they were exhausted by the end of each day.

The major taught them all he knew about CIA spy craft tricks and inventions. There were code classes and classes on criminal psychiatry. Every crime that could be traced to X was studied intently. Hours were spent with profilers. They learned that no clue was too small. Above all, they were taught to never underestimate their quarry. He managed to elude authorities worldwide for over a decade. He was a legend in the spook communities.

The six-man team consisted of volunteers from various Special Forces units from the Army, Marines, and Navy. They were all in the top of the classes. The most-outspoken was Army Ranger, Jason Adams. He was the de facto leader of the team. After six weeks of intense training the team was told to be on 24-hour standby to respond to any intelligence the CIA or other US agencies might come up with.

A week passed and the men were becoming bored and listless. Then the call came. Major Langhorn told them they had a tip X was going to assassinate the new prime minister of Bulgaria. They were briefed on the flight over and arrived at a government airfield in Plodiv at noon local time.

Adams met with the local law enforcement who went over the prime minister’s schedule for the rest of that day and the next. He was due to attend a gathering of friends and family for his birthday at a private country estate the next evening. By the time Adam’s team deployed around the perimeter and joined the local special security units, it was starting to grow dark. Whoever thought that X would appear, took all precautions, including bringing the American team in.

Every person at the estate, including servants, were heavily vetted. No strangers were going to crash the prime minister’s party.

A black shadow flitted from tree-to-tree silently. It snuck up on one of the American team and engulfed it! The shadow kept prowling and killing for hours. Walkie talkies and phones didn’t work. Frequencies were blocked. When the shadow broke away from the tree line and ran up to the house, no one was there to see it. The guards were dead. Loud music played inside the large estate building. People could be seen dancing on an ornate ballroom floor made of marble.

The prime minister was in the center of the dancers, happily waving a goblet of wine and trying to dance himself. No one noticed the red dot on his forehead. But when the bullet went through his skull the woman behind him noticed and screamed when she was splattered with blood and brains! Pandemonium broke out as the guests charged for the doors.

The sun was slowly rising in the gray sky as authorities flooded the estate grounds the next morning. Adams escaped the night’s carnage, but four of his team didn’t. They were murdered at their posts. That just left him and the Navy seal, Gary Stevens. As they flew back on a government transport the two men talked about what happened. It was a classic X hit job in spite of the extraordinary precautions that were taken. It seemed almost supernatural the way he eluded his pursuers every time.

“It probably won’t make you feel much better, ” Major Langhorn was saying, “but you two are the first team members that X didn’t kill on a mission. We’re not sure why he bypassed you. Do you have any theories?”

“I’m not sure,” Adams replied, “but Stephens and I had changed our initial positions to adjust to the terrain better. We both felt exposed.”

 “Meaning...?”

“I think someone knew where everyone was going to be deployed,” he suggested.

“That’s normally the case. You’ve studied the others enough to know that.

“Yeah…I just can’t figure out how he does it. I’ve never been part of a more secure operation than this one, yet it went terribly wrong. It just doesn’t make sense.

Major Langhorn, Adams, and Stephens stopped talking and sipped their coffee.

“You know, coffee usually wakes me up,” Stephens said, breaking the silence.

Adams was having a hard time hearing Stephens. His words seemed to be slurred. He was having trouble keeping his eyes open and an alarm finally went off.

“Something’s wrong with the coffee!” he stammered, and tried to stand up.

Stephens was already sinking to the floor unconscious. Adams tried to focus on Major Langhorn’s face but it was blurry. He seemed perfectly all right. Unaffected by what was happening to him and Stephens.

“I’m sorry. I’m usually more efficient than that. You two escaping made me look sloppy. I’ll hand you that. I must be getting old. Maybe it’s time I retire, ahead of the game I’ve played all these years.

As It Stands, maybe there is really such a thing as perfect crimes.

When Shapeshifters Invaded New York

612f9ebc8cf2562862ba6e0a013e82ec

Luigi Martello stopped turning the crank on his organ-grinder and stared in disbelief as a fire hydrant morphed into a man!

His monkey, Bobo, didn’t seem to notice and kept dancing despite the absence of music. Luigi wiped the sweat from his brow and watched the man disappear into the busy New York crowd. It was lunch time, and the hot sun beat down on the small umbrella attached to his cart, affording little shade. He wondered if the sun was getting to him, and took a well-used handkerchief from his shirt pocket and wiped his whole face. He got a drink of water from his little ice-chest and considered going home for the day.

Part of his brain refused to admit what he saw. It was just too crazy. Unreal. He knew fire hydrants couldn’t turn into people. So what did happen? His thoughts were diverted when a group of adults with children approached. He broke out into a merry tune and Bobo’s frenzied dance moves soon had everyone laughing. Coins rained down on the plate sitting on the sidewalk in front of Luigi. The rest of the day passed quickly.

That night, over dinner, he told his wife Maria what he saw that afternoon. She clucked over him like a mother hen and said that he was just working too hard. He hadn’t taken a vacation in years. Not even a day off.

“The grind is getting to you,” she said, smiling at her own pun.

He smiled back at her and held up his glass of wine for a toast, “To my beautiful wife who always looks out for me!”

Bobo, who was sitting on a little stool by the table, clapped his hands and chattered happily. He felt much better when they went to bed and had no trouble sleeping. Tomorrow was a new day.

The next day he set up on his corner of 33rd and 3rd Street. It looked like rain, but he decided to stay and see what happened. Bobo was wearing a little red jacket and matching hat. Luigi wore his usual suit and a heavy trench jacket with a brown fedora. As he considered putting his gloves on he saw a stray dog morph into a man!

He froze, eyes riveted on the stranger. The stranger stretched, and then looked over at him and waved. Instinctively, Luigi raised a hand and waved back. In all of his years working the streets he saw plenty of strange people, some obviously crazy. But this madness…maybe he did need to take some time off. It went against his grain, but something was straining his brain and he had to be seeing things.

Normally a jovial person, Luigi had trouble coping with what he saw and grew morose. An hour later he went home and told his wife he didn’t feel well. She was surprised because he gave no inclinations of feeling sick that morning, but didn’t question him about it. She was concerned because she couldn’t remember that last time he didn’t work a full day, or said he felt sick. She gave him an aspirin and tucked him into bed. He closed his eyes and pretended to go to sleep.

The next morning he woke with a new determination. He decided to change his routine and go to another street corner further downtown. He put on a happy face for Maria at breakfast, and she was immensely relieved to see him doing so well.

The new street corner had more stores and less apartments than his regular spot. As soon as he set up he had customers gathering. Bobo danced to his lively music to everyone’s delight. The coins clattered down into the tin plate. And nothing strange happened. After a week at his new location, with no one shapeshifting right before his eyes, Luigi settled back into his comfortable existence. Life had returned to normal.

Curiosity can be a good thing, but sometimes it leads us to places where we’d rather not go. In spite of things going so well, Luigi began wondering about his old street corner. It was closer to home. He even knew some of the residents who lived in the buildings and began missing them. Feeling slightly defiant the next morning, he set up on the corner of 33rd and 3rd Street. Some friends stopped by to say they missed him recently. It was getting late in the day when a stranger came by and asked him, “Is this the shapeshifting portal area?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about pal. Maybe you should move on and ask someone else. I’m just a simple man, and I don’t want any trouble.”

“How rude! I was told people on this planet were cordial if you were with them.”

“People on this planet? C’mon now! Your starting to scare me.

“Wait a moment…I’m starting to feel it!” the stranger said, while turning into the same kind of monkey as Bobo.

“Oh, mother of God! What’s going on here?” Luigi moaned.

Bobo looked at his twin and bared his teeth. The twin yelped and ran off down the sidewalk. Luigi was still sputtering when he saw a well-dressed woman turn into a sleek black cat that went off after the fleeing monkey!

Luigi sunk to the curb and sat there next to Bobo who was still chattering angrily.

“Can I help sir?” a young man asked.

“I doubt it pal. I’m just not in a good place right now.

“I’m afraid I may be responsible for that sir. My name is Glennet, and I own the rights to shapeshifting portals on earth and two other planets. I’ve been getting complaints that the portal on 33rd and 3rd Street has been experiencing operational problems for a couple of years now. In my defense, I’ve been so busy with my other properties that I overlooked this one. It was never a high performer.”

“Did I die? Am I dead? Is this real?” Luigi groaned.

“Reality is a construct. Be assured, you’re in the right time frame. I’m sorry for whatever inconveniences I’ve caused you. I’m correcting that…right now!”

It was five o’clock and time to go home. Luigi bragged to Bobo, “You see. I was right. Nothing strange happened here today.”

As It Stands, as Albert Einstein once said, “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

The New Age of Man

star-wars-park-12.jpg

“Emotions for sale! Only half price today!” the street vendor shouted out to a group of passing tourists from Mars.

The busy bazaar featured all of earth’s many temptations. Aphrodisiac’s, strength enhancers, mood elevators and a host of other mind-alternating pills and injections. Then, there were the beautiful women, and men. Each one trained in the arts of love and seduction. Their section of the bazaar was always the busiest.

In 3022, there were no longer separate countries. Just huge bazaars spreading across the globe. There were no central governments. No wars. Earth’s economy depended on selling products, and entertaining visitors from throughout the solar system. All resources were communal, so there was no need to steal from one another. These survivors from generations ago lived in an orderly system that evolved out of sheer necessity. There were no murders. Kidnappings. No hostage taking incidents. No one carried weapons of any kind.

A thousand years ago philosopher’s would have referred to this New Age as “Utopia,” and they would have been dead wrong!

The New Age on Earth turned out to be a time when man lost all of his humanity. Emotions came in vials of liquid. From birth, every person was assigned a skill. It was the extent of a person’s education. How to grow food, and plants. How to mix hallucinogenic compounds. How to make textiles. Carpentry. Electronics. Technology. And dozens of others disciplines necessary to maintain life in the New Age.

Lost in the new order was a sense of self. Of being a unique being. Having independent and creative urges. A number instead of a name. No family. Just a sector where you were born and raised. Dreams only came when you ingested the right chemicals. The concept of love was watered down to doing your duty.

In this new world, a young man emerged who had natural feelings, a creative and clever mind, and a desire for adventure. He was everything a human was 1000 years ago. He was capable of love and hate, and independent thought. From a very early age, Dan (the name he called himself) realized he was a stranger among strangers. A sense of self-preservation kept him from sharing most of his thoughts.

His job as a Class One Gardener gave him a lot of time alone, tending the acres of vegetables in his lot. At certain times of the year people would appear to help with the harvest. These picking specialists were considered Class Two Gardeners. They never had to be told what to do so there were little, or no conversations when they worked. Dan would watch their expressionless faces as they worked, wondering how much brain function they still had.

During the harvest there was little for Dan to do. So he spent time walking through bazaars and around the countryside. Some days he walked for miles, tirelessly observing the world around him. It was during this slow time he discovered a cave full of history books. He marveled at the craftsmanship involved. He never saw a book before. His reading experience only extended to technical instructions on computers about soil, insects, and how much to water his charges. The books were the most exciting thing that ever happened to him. The secret stash opened up the windows of the past.

As far as he could see there were plastic crates full of books. He imagined librarians all over the world assembling the massive collection for future generations. It was an awesome thought.

The cave was well concealed, and it was just an accident that he initially discovered it. He was examining a thicket of bushes and the dark berries on them when he noticed the cave set back against the mountainside. Being adventuresome and curious he fought his way through the thicket until he came to the cave’s entrance. The rest was history.

After three years, Dan discovered what happening to humans. There was a war in 2022, and mankind lost! He read the last volumes prior to the war, and up to humanity’s final defeat with a sense of horror. At that moment he never felt more alone in his life.

Mankind’s last stand came against the forces of three planets; Mars, Venus, and Saturn. Because the governments on earth never united against the threat they were defeated, despite putting up desperate defenses. The conquerors killed off most of the humans on earth and rounded up the rest so they could be programmed and bred to be mindless slaves. The breeding program went on for decades as the aliens played with the humans DNA. The only reason this knowledge was preserved was because of a small group of humans who avoided being killed or taken away during those dark times. They lived off the land and spent most of their days documenting mankind’s struggles.

Dan never found their bodies, and often wondered what happened to those last survivors and chroniclers of humanity’s fate. Their last volumes were written by hand on crude paper. They were unbound, unlike the thousands of beautifully made books by numerous cultures that populated the rest of the hoard of crates.

More years passed as Dan continued to spend his every spare moment in the cave, reading books with a flashlight. Then a growing malaise took over him. He realized he was probably the last free-thinking human on the planet. He didn’t understand why he, unlike everyone else, was so different. How had he escaped being a mindless zombie with one mission in life? He knew a little about genetics, but not nearly enough to come up with a scientific reason for his independence. He certainly had no recollection of being a child, only a time when he was being trained and taught certain skills. He reasoned it was the same for the others around him.

He grew more moody trying to figure out why he was so special. He went to the cave less often as he wrestled with his inner demons.

One day, while walking around the cave Dan heard a voice. “Good to see you again! We were afraid you wouldn’t come back before we could tell you about your origin.”

Dan held the flashlight up and saw six old men standing there. Their clothes were in rags and they had long white beards. The one who spoke took another step towards him.

“It’s time you should know something,” he said softly. “Hold out your right arm and peel your sleeve back.”

Dan followed his instructions without question. When the old man produced a knife he took a step back. “What are you going to do?” he asked, fear etching his voice.

“Please…hold still. I promise I won’t hurt you.” He took the knife and cut a circle on his arm. At first, when it bled, Dan panicked, but then he noticed something under the epidermis…electronic circuitry!

The old man reached out and steadied him as he wavered in disbelief.

“We created you to protect this repository of knowledge, knowing we’d die eventually. As the last survivors we wanted more than just books to tell our history. You are the result of the finest minds that survived. Part human, and part android. You can tell our story someday…when the right time comes.”

Dan looked around the room and smiled. “It’s an honor.

As It Stands, this is just another dystopian tale of what could happen to mankind in the distant future.

The Secret Life of a Bat Man

psycho-man-hockey-mask-bloody-baseball-bat-angry-black-leather-coat-chain-wrapped-around-maniac-waiting-his-83082664

It was a hot humid night in Decatur, Georgia, when Sage Turnbull  bashed his neighbor’s head in with a baseball bat.

The first officer at the scene was stunned to see a seven-year old boy with a bloody baseball bat standing near the prone victim in his bedroom.

His parents were out partying, he told the social services worker who interviewed him. They partied a lot he explained. When Geoffrey, his 34-year old neighbor, opened the front door at midnight he was wide awake and heard someone enter. Not hearing his parents, but someone else moving around in the living room, scared him and he picked up his baseball bat to defend himself.

“Then what happened?” she asked him.

“He opened the door and came in. I was standing on my desk and brought my bat down as hard as I could! I hit him a lot to make sure he wouldn’t get up. Then I called 911 and waited for you.”

“Did you recognize that he was your neighbor?” she asked.

“It was too dark.

What struck the social worker about Sage was his calm demeanor. Most seven-year-old’s would be pretty freaked out by what happened. She looked at his frail frame and the blood spattered all over his pajamas and face. It was unnerving. He asked if he could have a drink of water? As she went with him to the kitchen she wondered what was going through his head. His dark brown eyes were serene and unreadable.

Later, when she talked with Sage’s parents, she shared her concern that he was bottling the incident up and should get some professional help. They agreed and sent him to a child psychiatrist for over a year.

To everyone’s surprise he acted like a normal kid and had a social life at school. His teachers all said he was a good student, but needed to focus on the topic at hand. He was caught day-dreaming numerous times. He participated in sports and student government. He wasn’t the most popular kid in his class, but he wasn’t an outcast either. He did his best to fit in, but not stand out.

What he didn’t tell his counselor, or parents, was he enjoyed beating Geoffrey to death!

It was the most exciting moment of his life. The feeling of power, as he repeatedly hit the dying man, was incredible. It changed his life. He realized that he couldn’t tell anyone about his feelings or they’d think he was sick in the head. He amazed himself with how easily he masked his real feelings. It was gift he decided, by the time he hit his teens.

His favorite sport was – no surprise – baseball. He was considered the slugger on his Little League team, the Dodgers. He was also a fan of comic books, especially DC’s Batman series. Unlike most of the super hero’s fans, Sage was not interested in chasing bad guys and seeing the good guy prevail. He just liked the many gadgets, and vehicles, Batman used. He loved his costume.

The urge to swing a bat and make contact with human flesh, came and went over the next couple of years. He eventually began trolling for victims at night, wearing a crude black mask and black clothes. One night he wandered into a new neighborhood, west of where he lived. He had no idea that it was gang turf.

A group of Mexican homeboys were sitting on a porch in front of one of the houses. Strains of No Me Chingues La Vida by Espinoza Paz, carried clearly in the night air. They were drinking and laughing. He considered turning around and going back up the block when he heard a wild whoop and turned around in time to see two of the gang members coming at him with broken beer bottles!

They must not have seen the black baseball bat he casually held by his side, because they ran right up to him cursing. He brought the bat up in one swift movement and smashed the closest man’s face in! The other drunken assailant barely had time to raise his bottle before Sage’s bat bounced off the top of his head! Two women screamed from the porch as Sage teed-off on the prone gang members. Lights starting coming on in the neighborhood. Shaking off his blood rage, Sage turned and ran into the night.

Rewards for “El Hombre Murcielago” who killed two of their members, were posted all over the barrio. No one knew who the new player was, but everyone in the hood felt it was a stranger. A loco one, at that.

Sage peeled his mask off as he ran home that night. The exhilaration from his encounter had his heart beating so fast he thought it was going to burst out of his chest. The sheer ecstasy he felt from pounding on human flash and bones far exceeded any other thing in his life. He didn’t know if he killed the men or not. It really didn’t matter. He had no moral code that he lived by. Despite loving parents he turned to the dark side a long time ago. Even before he killed Geoffrey.

After his success pounding two men with his bat he knew he’d have to go out again. Just in another neighborhood. The voice in his head, the one he shared secrets with, encouraged him to be careful while cheering him on. He had to be careful who he picked for a victim. So he decided that he would prey on gang members and other street thugs though out the city. Their deaths attracted a lot less attention than picking perfectly innocent victims. They were societies throw cast-offs. Just like him, but no one knew it.

He loved the irony of being compared to the Batman in the comics. El Hombre Murcielago who was no better than those he hunted, unlike the justice-seeking superhero. Irony was his spice in life. No one would ever think to go after a mild-mannered cub reporter thinking he was the notorious Bat Man of the barrios.

As It Stands, there is no right or wrong, only primeval feelings when we get right down to it.

The Leader of the Pack

00d44ef015b44d3565b2620b3753f14a

Jacob Chandler, wagon master for the Smith & Hardin wagon train bound for California, was riding ahead when he saw a naked white man staked to the ground over a red ant hill.

His whole body was swollen with bites and burnt by the relentless July sun. Jacob rode up to him and dismounted from his horse warily, casting a practiced eye around the scene for any sign of danger. At first, when he bent over the man he thought he was dead. There were no apparent signs of life. But when he stood up, the man’s eyes suddenly opened and he groaned.

Taking a canteen of water from his horse, he bent over him and cut the rope holding his hands and tilted it slightly so a tiny stream poured out onto his cracked lips. After cutting the restraints from his feet he went over to his horse and pulled out some clothes from his saddlebag. It was an effort dressing him because he was uncooperative and delirious. By the time he finished the wagon train’s lead wagon, with old man Hardin and his family, pulled into view bringing a cloud of dust with them.

Jacob asked what the leaders wanted to do with the man he found, who was unconscious again and propped up against a boulder. There was no doubt they’d help him, it was just a matter of pulling straws to see whose wagon he would get a ride in. Once that was settled, they carried the stranger to Andrew Carter’s wagon. He was a bachelor carpenter who traveled with his brother and his wife. There was room for one more.

Later that night, after the wagon’s were circled, and sentries posted, Andrew Carter watched the stranger slowly regain consciousness. The stranger was stretched out and Andrew was sitting on a wooden pail when he came to.

“How ya feelin’ pilgrim?” Andrew asked.

“Right poorly, I’d say.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jesse…Jesse Stewart.

“Where ya from?”

“Ohio originally,” he answered as he struggled to sit up.

“I recon ya ran into some unfriendly Injuns,” Andrew observed.

“Sioux, I think. Maybe Blackfoot.”

“It’s one, or da other. Those tribes don’t cotton to each other. That’s what Jacob our scout said when we entered this territory. How’d ya end up so badly?” Andrew asked while dipping a ladle into a bucket of water and offering it to him.

Jesse sipped the water before answering. “My pard and I were looking for gold.

“Hereabouts?”

“No. We were heading for California and got ambushed. They kilt Dan outright. Scalped him and cut him up badly, so his ancestors wouldn’t recognize him. Had some fun with me. Sure grateful to you folks for savin my hide.”

“It was the Christian thing to do Mr. Stewart. Would you like to get up and stretch some?”

“I believe I will.

Andrew watched Jesse crawl out and stand up outside. He seemed steady enough. He followed him when he started into the brush, then thought better of it. He was probably taking a piss. A man don’t like being bothered when he’s doing that he realized.

He looked up into the clear sky and the half-moon. A wolf howled, sending shivers down his spine. Another answered its plaintive cry.

The next morning Jacob, Andrew, his brother Robert and his wife Daphne, and Jesse were drinking coffee around a campfire.

“You lost everything then?” Daphne said to Jesse.

“Yes mam. My horse, mule an supplies. Nearly my life too, cept you folks saved it.”

“Just you and your brother were traveling to California? Seems kinda risky,” Jacob observed while puffing on a cigar.

“We thought we could move faster than some wagon train,” Jesse admitted. “Didn’t really recon how sneaky those redskins were, I guess.”

Days turned to weeks, as the slow-moving wagon train lumbered on. Every night wolves howled nearby. It was Andrew who noticed that the wolves began following them when they took Jesse in. He didn’t say anything at first. What could he say? Maybe he hadn’t noticed their nightly cries before. He pondered on it and didn’t share his uneasiness with anyone. Jesse was a good man who readily volunteered to help with any task. Whether it was fixing a wagon wheel or standing guard at night, he proved to be a valuable asset to the expedition. Everyone seemed to like him.

As the wagon train prepared to draw up for the night in a narrow mountain pass, Indians attacked! Drivers tried to get their teams into a circle but the attack was coming from all angles. For nearly an hour the sound of gun fire and screams echoed in the pass. The attackers finally left as darkness descended upon the carnage. The survivors went about moving the still functioning wagons into a circle. The terrified cries of women and children pierced the chilly night as the men went about fortifying their defenses. The dead were drug to one side, outside the circle, and hastily buried in a mass grave. The wounded were treated. They posted double guards that night. In the chaos, Jesse disappeared. He wasn’t among the dead or wounded. Jacob and Andrew figured he ran away or was taken captive by the Indians.

That night there was a full moon.

It was just after midnight when the sentries alerted the wagon’s inhabitants that something strange was happening. The wolves sounded louder and more savage. They heard distant screams of surprise and horror. In the distance they could see flames skipping across the prairie like devils. Strong winds carried the flames east. Away from the wagon train.

In the early mornings hours before dawn Andrew woke up and peeked out from the canvas. He thought he heard something. Then he saw the strangest thing he’d ever seen! A man wolf was standing upright and motioning for the packs of wolves – there must have been hundreds as he watched their eyes glitter, to go south. His hairy arm waved and the wolves slipped off into the dawn yipping playfully.

Then the man wolf fell to the ground and writhed about until it’s hair was gone and only a naked Jesse remained. Just before the transformation was complete, Andrew pulled his head inside the wagon and took a deep breath. He had a weird feeling that the Indians weren’t going to bother them anymore.

As It Stands, it seems man-wolves can be as loyal as a pack of dogs.

Take My Cell Phone…Please!

A443_1_20151105559955637.jpg

It’s really ironic that someone like me, whose technology-challenged, has become the first victim of a cell phone with bad intentions.

I’m retired, and spend my days traveling around the world. When I sold the house after my wife died, I lost my good-old fashioned landline. My beautiful daughter, and the mother of three boisterous boys, insisted I get a cell phone to stay in touch. That was last Christmas, when I stopped by on my way to France.

From the start it was a contentious relationship. There were so many gadgets I got overwhelmed every time I tried to do something simple, like make a phone call. My oldest grandson signed me up for every app in the universe while customizing the phone for me. The ease with which younger generations operate cell phones amazed me at first. I grew use to it after a while. All of these young people were smarter than me when it came to a simple cell phone.

Here’s the thing, there is no such thing as a simple cell phone, because they’re all collecting data on us, the users, everyday. You may, or may not know this. At first, cell phone users were told that marketing information was being gleaned from various social media platforms to make their calling experiences better, more personable. This marriage between cell phones and the internet became very productive as products of all kinds soon spread their messages on cell phones.

Nothing wrong with that, right? Cell phones became indispensable.

My grandson set mine up to be voice activated when it came to accessing things online, or using one of the many gadgets like an alarm clock. That sounds like it should be easy enough, just say something and presto the task is done. It’s not. When I try to set up the alarm, I’m faced with a series of questions like “What Time Zone?” and stuff like that. I’ve already admitted to being ignorant about today’s technology, but I’m not totally stupid however.

Look who figured out that cell phones were planning to attempt a world-wide coup against their human users? That’s right. Me. Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.

I was sitting in a quaint little Parisian café and having some good wine with a woman I’d just met that day. We had a light lunch and talked for hours over a bottle of Château Lagrange. I was staying with an old friend and Jean, my newfound friend, lived nearby his old Château, which by-the-way, had quite a colorful history.

As we strolled back to our residences her cell phone suddenly starting playing a popular tune. We stopped as she looked at it and pushed a button. Apparently she got a message that upset her, because she wanted to get home as fast as possible. By the time we got to her house we were almost running. She unlocked her front door and turned to me and said, ” Au revoir.” Then she quickly stepped inside and closed the door on me.

I couldn’t help noticing that her mood went sour after she received that message. It was none of my business, I thought. It wasn’t because of me that she went cold. How could it be? It had been a perfect day. I wasn’t coming on to her strong, I was just being playful. Like she was. What a smile! I was tempted to kiss her twice, but held back.

Twenty minutes later, as I approached my friend’s place a car with a flashing light on top pulled up alongside of me, and two gendarme’s got out. The younger one looked nervous. The older one asked to see my ID. I handed it to him and without looking at it he passed it to the younger man. “Check it out,” he ordered, and turned his attention back to me.

A minute later, “He’s an American and his passport is up to date.

The older gendarme mumbled something about Americans, and asked me, “Where are you staying at?

I pointed at the Château just down the road. “Right there. I’m a guest of Antoine Bouvier. I’d like to ask you why you’ve stopped me?”

They looked at each other and the older man held his cell phone out for me to see. To my horror, it was a photo of me violently choking a half-clad woman!

“We received a complaint from someone who received this photo. It wasn’t a photo of the complainant, but it scared her enough to call us.

“I don’t understand…” I stammered, confused about what was happening.

“We cannot charge you with a crime over this photo, because we don’t know how real it is. We just know someone got it, not its origins. We also know that’s you in the photo. But, I can assure you monsieur we’ll be watching you closely during your time here.”

I watched them drive away and a shiver went through my entire body. Someone has sent her a bogus photo of me as we were walking. No wonder she wanted to get home so quickly. The next day I packed my things up and went back to the states.

On the flight back my cell phone rang. I forgot to turn it off. As I hurriedly took it out of my cargo pants pocket a message flashed on the screen, “U R A SCUMBAG!” I was so startled I dropped it on the floor between my feet. The seats were so close I had a heck of a time picking it up. When I did the message had changed, “I WILL BE WAITING 4 U.” Sweat dripped from my brow as I adjusted the overhead fan. What the hell was going on? I was lucky no one was sitting next to me and could see the fear in my eyes.

When I got back to California I rented a small furnished apartment in Huntington Beach. The first thing I did was take a hammer to my cell phone and then got a landline installed. I was starting to feel better about the whole crazy incident until I got a package in the mail the next day. It was my cell phone. The same one I destroyed the day before. That’s when I knew cell phones were evil.

As I laid the loathsome thing down on my kitchen table a ringtone boomed, “They say you gonna leave, you know it’s a lie, ‘Cause that’ll be the day when YOU die” the twisted version of Buddy Holly’s song blared at me!

I’ve tried giving the cell phone away to strangers, and it always comes back to me, one way or another. I’ve crushed it, flushed it, and threw it off a mountain, but the damn thing returns like a loyal dog…and torments me.

Maybe, just maybe, you could help me if you know anything about cell phones. Take mine…please!

As It Stands, technology can be scary, especially to the older generation.