The Mail Order Bride

Mail order brides were a common occurrence in the Old West, so when Hank told his friend Logan he’d sent for one, they celebrated in the Bucket Of Blood saloon until they were kicked out by the bartender who was closing up.

Logan had married a lady from Boston last year, when she replied to his ad for a bride. Seeing his friend so happy, Hank decided it was time to seek martial bliss himself. It was pretty lonely at the miner’s camp in Big Gulch, Nevada.

He’d saved up money that he earned hunting for meat and furs for the miners, and felt confident that he could support his new wife.

Unlike Logan, who worked hard everyday at the gold mine owned by the Loman Brothers, Hank was a free spirit who didn’t want to be tethered to anyone, or business.

Gold was first discovered in the vicinity of Carlin in Eureka County, Nevada, in the 1870s, and by the time Logan and Hank arrived from Ohio, it was a thriving business in Jackass Junction.

Hank was a good hunter, and the fur that he cured was easily sold to miners. He also made arrangements with other small mining towns like Jackass Junction, to bring them meat in exchange for coffee, tobacco and liquor.

Once he decided to get married he built a log cabin away from the boom town, and filled it with crude wooden furniture he made himself. There was a bed, kitchen table, four chairs, and several wooden shelves on the wall near a wood-fired stove he bought in a 1887 Sears catalogue.

There were still very few women in the area, and when one arrived in town it was a big occasion for the men, who gathered on the street to greet them. As soon as word got out a newcomer was there to meet her husband, most of the men lost interest and went about their business.

Hank purchased a buggy and two roan horses to pull it. When the day came around for his new bride’s arrival, he joined Logan and the other men in town, lingering around at the saloon.

“What’s her name again pard?” Logan asked.

“Annabel Lee,” Hank cheerfully replied.

There conversation was abruptly terminated when someone shouted, “Coach is here! The stagecoach is here!” The men poured out of the saloon like lemmings to get a look at the new arrivals.

It was a bumper crop of brides, with five women inside. Turned out that only two were brides, and the other three were “soiled doves,” to the absolute delight of the women-starved miners.

Annabel Lee stood out from the other sun-tanned women, because she was so pale. She wore a black dress, with a matching hat and veil, and carried an umbrella. Hank couldn’t help notice some men staring at her oddly.

The stagecoach driver was pulling down Annabel Lee’s luggage when Hank approached her timidly.

“Might you be Annabel Lee?

“You are Hank then. You’re much more handsome than in the photo you sent me.” she said matter-of-factly.

Hank blushed under his recently trimmed beard.

“Thankee mamI’ll take care of your luggage.

Hank helped her up to the buggy seat and went after her luggage. Left alone for a moment, she raised her veil slightly…and hissed, as she surveyed the townspeople.

Hank returned after loading her luggage, and hopped nimbly up onto the buggy seat beside her. He took the reins and gently tugged them. The roan’s took off in a steady pace as they headed to the cabin.

After a few cursory questions the conversation died down. Hank had never felt more awkward in all of his life. His only experience was with a prostitute in the nearby boom town of  Hell’s Half-Acre. Once.

When they got to the cabin he helped her down and unhitched the horses. He led them over to a water trough as she stood silently in front of the cabin. After securing both horses near his stallion, he came back and opened the front door.

“C’mon in,” he said with as big a smile as he could muster.

She didn’t comment on any of the furnishings while Hank started a fire in the woodstove.

“Built this place m’sef,” he offered, by way of conversation.

She took off her hat and veil, and appeared paler than before.

“Very talented,” she softly replied. “What else can you do?” she asked coyly.

“Well…I’m a pretty fair hunter, and a decent shot with a Colt .45. Been riding horses since I was five…

She studied his face as he spoke. He seemed like a nice guy. She knew he would provide good cover for her being here.

He was her complete opposite. She was a traveler who had seen many cities in her long lifetime. He was a country boy out of his league right now. She spoke 22 languages. It was apparent to her that he hadn’t even mastered one, with his accent.

She was tired of the east coast, and when she heard about mail order brides it encouraged her to go on another adventure. So, she answered Hanks letters for a proper period of time, and then made arrangements to come out west and get married.

It had been over 30 years since Edgar Allen Poe immortalized her. She, in turn, encouraged him to pursue his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was the last man she lived with for a while.

The intervening years were spent single, roaming the streets of eastern cities in search of new blood supplies. Unlike novice vampires, Annabel Lee had evolved over the centuries to the thing she was now. The sun was no longer fatal to her. Just something to be avoided.

“I just can’t get over what a handsome man you are Hank! Please forgive me. I know I’m being forward and we aren’t married yet.”

Awwww shucks mam. I set it up with the preacher so we could get hitched tomorrow.

“How thoughtful,” she said. “Come here Hank…”

The next morning while they were riding to town, Hank felt an itch on the side of his neck. When he scratched it, he got a little blood on his fingernails. Not overly concerned, his thoughts quickly returned to getting married.

Most of the miners in town were working when they got there. The preacher was waiting in the saloon for them.

“Sorry mam!” the preacher said, “We don’t have us a church yet. This will have to do.”

Annabel Lee smiled sweetly and declared, “Oh, that’s all right reverend. I’m ready to marry this fine man anywhere.”

After the five-minute ceremony the bartender bought the bride and groom a drink. He set two beers down on the bar for them. Hank tossed his beer down without hesitation.

Annabel Lee looked at hers, and then at her new husband, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t drink any kind of alcohol. Not that I mind if you do though. It doesn’t set well with me,” she explained.

Months later, a dozen miners grew so weak they could no longer walk. The local doctor, between bouts with John Barleycorn, had no idea what was wrong with the men. He told anyone who asked that they were sicker than anything he’d ever seen. He knew it wasn’t consumption.

Hank and Logan were having a beer at the saloon one afternoon when Logan asked, “What do you think about what’s happened to those men? I ain’t never seen anything like it. The doc says the same.”

“Not sure pard.

As Hank rode his horse back to the cabin he was troubled. He knew Annabel Lee was sneaking out at night when she thought he was asleep in the wee hours. He decided that he had to find out what was going on that night.

The moon was at its fullest when Annabel Lee stealthily got out of bed. He marveled at how quiet she could be, then rolled off the bed, and pulled his trousers on and his boots. He slipped on a shirt, and leather jacket.

After a slight pause he strapped his gun belt on. One ould never be sure in this wild country.

Hank followed her trail on foot. It wasn’t easy. She barely disturbed the ground she walked on. As a hunter, he learned long ago on how to track prey. As he followed her a growing uneasiness told him this wasn’t normal.

Women didn’t just get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks without telling their husbands. There was something about her that made him uneasy at times. He just couldn’t figure out what it was.

He was lucky to catch a flash of her skirt as it disappeared inside the tent set aside for the twelve sick men. Hank got down on all fours and crawled over to the tent. A candle flickered weakly on a table next to the woman who was asleep in a rocking chair.

A pitcher of water and partial loaf of bread were on the small table. Annabel Lee confidently moved from man-to-man, sucking on their sleeping necks! Hank who was peeking from underneath the tent flap, recoiled back in sheer horror when he saw what she was doing!

The thought of lying next to that monster who was sucking the poor men’s lifeblood away was too much. He was a simple man who knew very little about supernatural things. He heard a few scary yarns growing up in the Ohio Valley.

But nothing like this.

Hank crawled away from the tent until he was near the livery stable. He got up and made a mad dash for it. Inside, he found the preacher snoring loudly and still clasping a bottle of rot gut rye in one hand.

Hank plucked the bottle from his chubby fist and shook him hard, “Wake up! I need you!” he whispered. It took a pail of water and some slapping, but Hank got him to finally wake up.

Sputtering indignantly, the preacher demanded to know why he was so rudely awakened?

“Hush! Keep it down and listen to me. What kind of creature sucks folks blood?

The preacher’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Why do you ask?

“That gal I hitched up with, is sucking men’s blood. That’s why those miners are so sick!”

This time the preacher crossed himself, “Are you sure?”

“Saw it with my own eyes a little bit ago,” Hank assured him.

“She must be a vampire!” he said, and crossed himself again for good measure.

“What in Billy hell is that?

“A demon of the night. They can only be killed by a wooden stake through their black heart, or cutting their head off!” the Preacher explained.

“You mean bullets don’t kill them?”

“I’m afraid not Hank. They also have supernatural strength, so don’t get in no wrestling match with her.”

Hank left the now very sober preacher and went back outside. He got back down to the ground and crawled over to the tent. She was still there, stroking the hair of the sleeping woman.

Careful not to make a noise, he headed back to the cabin as fast as he could. It seemed like he no sooner got there when the front door creaked and she slipped in inside beside him on the bed.

It took all the will power he had to lie still, and wait. It wasn’t long before he could tell from her regular breathing that she was asleep. The predawn quiet seemed sinister as Hank slipped out of the bed.

Without dressing, still in his long johns, Hank went outside to the woodpile and went through a stack of sticks that were trimmed off from his last load of firewood. He picked one that was sturdy and narrow on one end.

With a nearby hatchet he sharpened it. Then he got a hammer from the tools in his small shed. The hunter in Hank kicked in as he went back inside.

Before he chickened out he put the stake over her heart and thrust down! He hit the stake again with the hammer! It was over in a moment. Her body turned to ashes. There wasn’t even a skeleton left.

Horrified and amazed, Hank got dressed and rode into town. He went straight for the saloon and waited until it opened. The bartender shook his head when he opened up the saloon.

“Kinda early Hank.”

Nearly a bottle later, Hank was still standing but reeling awkwardly.

When Logan came in the saloon later that afternoon, after working at the mine, he found Hank three-sheets-to-the-wind. Logan patted his old friend on the shoulder and asked him about married life.

Hank started to say something…but started coughing so hard, he fell down to the ground gasping for air. He finally got air enough to moan, “Never again!”

As It Stands, whose to say a few bloodsuckers didn’t go west back in the day?

How An Urban Legend Saved The Earth

Lester was an urban adventurer that thrived in the underbelly of great cities worldwide.

In some ways he was the “Banksy” of modern exploration. Like the artist, he hid his identity, only leaving behind clues that he’d been there. He was a small man, barely five feet-three inches tall, and a 110 pounds soaking wet.

His travels were legendary among explorers worldwide.

He’d explored so far into the depths of the catacombs beneath the Eternal City of Rome, it would take decades before archeologists ran across his mark.

He was the first modern man to explore the hidden underground tunnels and chambers beneath the Giza Plateau. His mark is written on the underground walls of Cappadocia, in Turkey. According to people who have made him an urban legend, he explored all seven levels in one week.

It’s also rumored that he discovered an enormous underground labyrinth in Egypt full of hieroglyphs on endless stone walls. It was said the hieroglyphs contained all of the knowledge of ancient Egypt.

But Lester’s greatest, and most unheralded, achievement was saving the earth.

He was on one of his usual one-man expeditions looking for a secret 5,000-years-old city hidden somewhere beneath Death Valley, when he discovered an underground tunnel in a cave not far from Scotty’s Castle.

The first cave he looked into turned out to be an old mine. There was still a pickax, some drill bits, and a wooden box that looked fairly modern, containing sticks of dynamite. He made a mental note to tell the rangers on his way home.

He didn’t think the second tunnel he went into was very big, but it was 120 degrees outside and the shade in the cave felt good, just stuffy. But as he went further inside he came upon a hole in the ground at a dead-end.

Shinning his flashlight down he could see there was once a wooden rope ladder, but it was badly deteriorated. Undeterred, he pulled out his rope and climbing equipment. It didn’t look like he would have to repel down too far down as he could see the bottom.

Once he was down on the dirt floor he unhooked his harness. The rope and tackle were secured by a steel spike in the floor above. He shined his flashlight down a long dark tunnel and slowly walked into the darkness.

After two hours he was starting to think he was wasting his time, but he knew knowledge never came easily and kept walking. When he saw the first sign on the wall he stopped and studied it with growing excitement.

It looked like a ball with rings around it and was carved into the Borax crystals on the walls. To him it looked like a planet. Excited, he moved on looking for more signs on the walls.

He walked for two more hours before deciding to stop and take a break and eat something. His excitement had worn off and he was hungry. As he bit into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, he thought about the marking he saw. Was it a planet?

Feeling refreshed, Lester resumed his search. Twenty minutes later he found another hole. As he stopped and flashed his light down it he saw something metallic. There was a rope ladder which was in much better condition than the first.

He had to make a decision. He didn’t have enough rope to repel down. It was still hanging from where he anchored it. He’d have to climb back up, leave the cave and hike  back to his Volkswagen bus for more rope.

Or, he could take a chance and use the hanging ladder. It didn’t take him long to decide. Adventure was in his DNA. He cautiously climbed down the rope until he came to the bottom and saw he was in a large open cavern with a metallic floor!

It’s shiny floor gleamed in the twilight created by his flashlight. He followed it to another open area where there were rows of metal tubes as far as he could see. He went up to one and saw that it had a little porthole that displayed a yellowish light inside. Then he saw a pale face, and it blinked!

He fell back in surprise and horror!

He’d always explored the secrets of past civilizations with gusto, never dreaming that he might actually run across a civilization that was still viable, and unknown to mankind. He looked in the port-hole again just to see if it was his imagination playing tricks on him.

No such luck. The face was still there and now both eyes were open and staring at him!

Then he felt a tug at his brain and a voice inside his head said, “Let me out. The button is below the glass you’re looking through.”

Lester broke the spell and got the courage to ask, “Do you mean to harm me, or others above us?”

The thing in the tube narrowed its bulging eyes and loudly commanded Lester to let it out!

“It’s our time now! You pitiful earthlings will only be kept alive as slaves to serve us when we take control of this planet!

He grabbed his head in pain as the thing tried to get a foothold in his brain. He staggered backwards, and dropped his flashlight which spun around on the metallic floor sending tiny beams of light throughout the cavern.

It took every bit of Lester’s intestinal fortitude to fight the creature trying to take over his body. Then he broke free, and ran out of the cavern! His mind was fuzzy but he managed to reach the rope ladder.

About half way up it started tearing loose! In sheer panic, Lester scuttled up the rest of the way and laid down on the dirt floor exhausted. He hoped he was far enough away that the creature couldn’t attack him again.

After a few gulps of air to steady himself, he climbed up his rope and reached the top floor of the cave safely. Only adrenaline kept him going as he went back to the first cave and retrieved the box of dynamite.

He knew it was a risky and stupid thing to try, but he had to do something about the creatures in those tubes. He took out two sticks and carefully tucked them into his leather belt before repelling back down to the next floor.

He went to the last hole with the good ladder, and lit both sticks and tossed them down the hole! The explosion filled the cave with dust and the concussion made his ear bleed. Somehow he was still alive.

He crawled back to his rope and used the last of his strength to climb back up. He lay there in the darkness for a while coughing and trying to get his breath. Minutes passed and the dust began settling down enough to see his way out of the cave.

He picked up the wooden box outside and brought it back into the cave. He set it down and pulled out his lighter. He lit one of the sticks and laid it next to the box and staggered out of the cave as fast as he could.

He was surprised that the explosion wasn’t bigger than it was. It still made an impressive tower of dirt and blanked out the sun for a moment. He felt confident that no one else would ever stumble upon the creatures beneath the desert floor.

His only regret was that he forgot to leave his mark down there. Then he smiled, and told himself this was one adventure that wouldn’t contribute to his legend…and that was okay.

As It Stands, this story is for free spirits.

 

The Star Child

Jericho was the only person in town who could see a spook, or spirit as Reverend Ledbetter called them.

No one in Titusville, Kentucky, doubted that Jericho had the ability to see, and communicate with the dead. He was always a strange child that defied description.

For starters, no one ever tried to pick on him in school even though he made an easy target. He never bullied anyone. He tended to be a loner, but spoke with other students and teachers when he had to.

There was something powerful that emanated from Jericho. There was a certainty in his eyes that belied his age. He was neither short, nor tall. He wasn’t stupid, nor was he the top of the class.

He was every man by the time he graduated from high school. He could disappear in crowds effortlessly. Nothing in his features made him stand out.

If not for his ability to see and talk with spirits, Jericho would have gone through life unnoticed.

Instead of leaving tiny Titusville like most of the other kids did when they graduated, Jericho was content to stay in town and scratch out a living as a handyman and carpenter.

He lived with his elderly parents in the house he was born in. The house was located near the downtown district in a small residential area.

One afternoon while Jericho was repairing a neighbor’s fence, an alien from a nearby solar system trying to disguise itself as a restless spirit, approached him with a question, “When shall I go to heaven?

Jericho stopped hammering and turned around to fully face the apparition.

“Never!” he harshly replied, “You’re a fraud!

Surprised to be discovered so easily, the alien took on its true form.

“Perhaps the rumors are true,” the alien said. “Maybe you are the star child.”

I don’t know anything about a star child. The dead choose to talk with me. I’m nothing more than a sympathetic soul bent on leading a quiet life.

“Your modesty humbles me…for a moment. But I’m not here to admire your ability to speak with the dead. I’m here to warn you to stop! My master, Lord Lucan of Antares, doesn’t like it. You’ve been stirring up some lost souls that he’s collected around the solar system and they now believe they have hope.”

“Get out of here, whatever you are! Take your warning and shove it up your master’s ass!”

When the alien left, he went back to work on the fence and finished it before the sun went down. That night as he ate dinner with his parents, he sensed an underlying tension. Like they wanted to tell him something.

After dinner, they all went to the living room. Instead of picking up a book, like he usually did after the evening meal, Jericho’s father said he had a story to tell him.

It started with the fact that he was an orphan. They found him near the wreckage of a small metal capsule in the forest. He was only an infant, so they took him home and raised him.

They agreed that some day they would tell him what they knew – little though it was – when they felt he was ready. One thing that amazed them both was how much he came to resemble a little of each of them in his features.

“This is that day,” his mother spoke up.

“Why today?

“Because our time is running out,” his father explained. “Some alien-looking thing came by today and threatened to kill us if you didn’t stopping talking with the dead.”

Jericho bowed his head for a moment and tried to collect himself. “Who was he? The alien thought he might be someone called the star child.”

His parents watched his confusion with sympathy. Their world was turned upside when they first found him. Now it was being turned upside down again because they raised him. Neither, for even a moment, considered asking him not to communicate with restless spirits.

It was an ability they accepted because of their love for him. Both were ready to die for him now.

“Mom and Dad, would you do me a favor?

They both quickly nodded yes.

“Can you take me back to that place in the forest where you found me?”

There was a slight hesitation before his father said, “I’ll do my best son, but my legs are old and weak. Along with my memory.”

They drove to the edge of the forest. His mother stayed with the pickup truck while his dad picked out a trail and followed it. After an hour they came upon the partly buried capsule. Vegetation had nearly engulfed it.

“Thanks dad. Now you head back before it gets dark.

“Good luck son…if I never see you again.”

When night fell Jericho attempted to do something he’d never done before; summon up a spirit – and not just one – but hundreds! Soon he was surrounded by spirits. He discovered they all weren’t just earthly spirits, but spirits from other races in other planets too!

He looked through the canopy of trees and saw stars twinkling brightly in the heavens. It was like they all were waiting for him to speak. With the support of other alien spirits, Jericho put together a team to stop Lord Lucan’s evil reign.

When it was done he felt pain in his earthly body. It only lasted for a moment before he died and his free spirit was able to assume his destiny as the star child.

As It Stands, this tale was a twist on the superman story.

A Visitor From Hell

Oman was an apprentice sorcerer who studied under the Grand Master of Upswich.

While practicing a spell one night something went wrong, because instead of summoning up his girlfriend, he got a visitor from Hell whose name was Dumas.

Like most demons, Dumas was fierce-looking and smelled like death. He was also thirsty.

“So where’s you good whiskey?” he asked while taking a seat at Oman’s crude table.

The only experience Oman had with demons was when his master summoned them to perform tasks. This was the first time he ever dealt with one by himself. He was wary, but he knew enough not to show fear. That was rule number one.

“I’m a poor man. All I have is beer,” he replied.

Dumas’ tail thumped the wooden floor hard, and he rolled all three of his eyes upward in exaggerated despair.

“If that’s all there is, I suppose I’ll suffer through it. Bring me a mug!” he demanded.

“Hold on there! This isn’t how it’s going to work. I won’t order you around, and you don’t order me around. As a visitor, it’s my obligation to offer drink and food. Is that clear?”

There was a sparkle of admiration in the demon’s eyes as he agreed to Oman’s terms.

After draining four large mugs of beer, Dumas was feeling groggy and agreeable. He politely listened to Oman’s stories for hours before his heavy head hit the table and he was snoring.

When he was sure that Dumas was sound asleep he got up and went over to the book shelf his master built, and stocked, with books on magic and guides for successful sorcerers.

It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for – Enslavement Spells. After deciding on one, he prepared himself for when Dumas woke. It wasn’t long before the demon stretched, belched, and opened all three bloodshot eyes.

Oman stood before him and recited words from a lost civilization that came before mankind. The woozy demon focused his eyes in surprise and asked, “What’s this shit?”

Oman kept chanting.

The demon farted, and scratched his hairy ass.

Oman continued to chant.

“All right, already! Don’t you get it? That babble your spewing isn’t doing anything to me. Oh, by the way…it’s damn rude of  you to treat a visitor like this.”

Oman stopped. He felt slightly embarrassed. Obviously his crude attempts were ineffective. To top that off he had to agree it was a hell of a way to treat a visitor.

“I’m sorry. I guess I have a lot to learn.”

“About what? Casting spells correctly, or how to properly treat visitors?”

“Both.”

“Fair enough. Have you got any more beer?

“No, that was all I had.”

“Any drugs? How about some killer devil weed?

“I do have some Witchy Kush that I recently cured. Pipe, or joint?”

“Let’s roast a bowl. I don’t like the taste of paper.

Oman got his wooden pipe out, and blew into it to clear any ash out. He plucked a chunk off of a fat bud and stuffed it in. Then he handed the pipe to Dumas who snapped his claws and lit it.

They quietly passed the pipe back and forth until only ash was left. Oman started to pack another one and Dumas said, “Whoa there! That was some good shit. Let’s take it easy huh?

I wonder what my master would say if he came in here right now?”

“You know what I’m wondering?” Dumas asked.

“What?”

“How did you ever manage to bring me here? I can see you’re just an apprentice, and a young boy at that.”

Oman’s face grew red with embarrassment. “I’m not a boy!”

“Okay fine. Let’s just agree you screwed something up, and now I’m stuck.”

“Your stuck?”

“Yes, damn it. You closed the door on me. I can’t get back until you open it again.”

The consequences of what he’d done hit him like a thunderbolt!

He brought a demon into the world and couldn’t send it back. His master’s anger would be terrible to behold. How could he explain it? He wasn’t supposed to be looking at that book of spells without him around.

As if reading his mind, Dumas asked, “How long until you expect to see your master again?”

Oman coughed nervously. “Any time,” he admitted.

“He’s a famous sorcerer who will make short work of me. What will he do to you?” Dumas asked.

The thought made him tremble involuntarily. “I have to find a spell to get us both out of here,” he proclaimed. The tension in the room increased as Oman looked through the book of spells.

“Here! This should work!” He quickly intoned the sacred words from Solomon’s Book of Knowledge.

Suddenly it grew dark and they could hear rushing winds. They were outside in a storm. Unfamiliar vegetation surrounded them. Something huge let out a roar that shook the ground!

A Tyrannous rex stomped into view and stopped to look at the man and the demon.

“I don’t suppose you brought the book with you?” Dumas asked.

As It Stands, this tale was a lesson on etiquette, and unlikely friendship.

The Cuckoo Went Tick Tock

Jake was running for his life! His chest and face were splattered with fresh blood. Behind him he could hear dogs baying like lost souls. He was heading straight for the swamp when someone fired a shot!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

Jake was playing chess with Bobby Fischer, the American grandmaster who was also constantly paranoid that someone was after him. To his amazement, he had Bobby in a bad position.

The temperamental Fisher suddenly overturned the board and stomped out of the gallery. Jake looked up at the judges…waiting for their decision.

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The time machine appeared in the middle of a grassy meadow where he’d been sleeping. Jake’s joy at seeing it again was short-lived. For the hundredth time he regretted taking the damn cuckoo clock when he transported to Germany on his maiden voyage.

He ignored the warnings of the clock maker who said it was cursed. He watched the time machine disappear and then…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The whistle blew; “Over the top!” the sergeant shouted as he led the way out of the muddy trench. He was met with a withering fire that was cutting men down like sheaves of wheat.

Jake looked at his M-1 carbine with bayonet attached, and waited for the next whistle. When it came, the second wave of Americans charged out bravely. Jake stumbled along until he heard someone scream, “Gas!

He dropped to his knees and fumbled around, putting his gas mask on just as the deadly chemical cloud came his way with the wind. Some men who weren’t as fast as he was, and they rolled about on the muddy ground in agony. A bombshell burst overheard…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The dark clouds gathered menacingly over the gallows. Three ropes. Three men. A small crowd had gathered despite the weather which threatened a deluge. Jake was standing nearby watching from a small platform.

After the priest read the doomed men their last rites, the crowd turned to Jake expectedly. He could feel their eyes urging him to give the signal. He didn’t want to send the poor sodden souls to their maker, but it was his job as mayor.

There was a loud crack of thunder, and as Jake gave the signal, lightning lashed the sky and carried their souls to eternity.

The cuckoo went tick tock. 

It was a hot muggy day in Dallas as Jake, who was part of the Secret Service detail that  ran alongside President Kennedy’s car, heard the shot and turned in time to see the back of Kennedy’s head explode!

Chaos broke out! Jake looked frantically around for the shooter and saw a silver flash in a grassy knoll nearby. The people who came to see the president were screaming and crying.

Jake looked over and one of his team pointed at a building. He started off in that direction…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

When Jake heard the cry for help he stood up on the lifeguard platform and checked to see where it was coming from. He spotted a young girl who was actively drowning past the breakers and towards the open sea.

Grabbing a small red paddle board he ran out to rescue her. Within minutes he was beside her and she was holding on to the paddle board. As he got ready to help her back to the beach he saw a large fin break the water nearby!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

He was closing in on the lead car and Jake was about to catch it when another car hit him from behind! He spun across the track, slammed into the wall, and came to rest in the inside lane.

His crew was running towards him shouting. Jake took off his helmet and tried to get out of the car, but was stuck! Two crew members cut him loose and pulled him out just as the car broke out into flames!

The announcer was calling for medical help as Jake and the two crew members all rolled on the ground trying to extinguish their burning clothes.

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The men in the white coats didn’t understand. Jack wasn’t crazy. He didn’t belong here. He told them he had a cuckoo clock in his time machine, and it somehow messed up his calculations and kept disappearing and transporting him to other places.

The men in the white coats nodded solemnly and escorted him to his bed. Jake was stuck. At least for now. When the clock struck another hour, he would be unwillingly transported to a different moment of time.

Time was against him until that damn cuckoo clock died! It was an 8-day movement that needed to be rewound after a week. He was barely through the cycle, having suffered 26 trips/hours in time thus far.

He had 186 more hours to go!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

As It Stands, we all have a limited amount of time in this world.

Eyes of Love

Stanley Meltzer fell in love with a new waitresses eyes when he went to Woolworth’s one morning.

While sipping his strong black coffee, he couldn’t help but notice how pretty she was. That she had an outgoing personality was obvious, as he watched her take time to chat with every customer. Her name badge said, “Lisa.”

Lisa’s smile was sweet and innocent. Her most striking feature was her long brilliant red hair which cascaded down her shoulders like a crimson waterfall, until it met her thin waist and stopped. Her voice was pitch-perfect and mesmerized Stanley as she took his order.

Stanley was an accountant for Al Capone, the notorious crime lord who ruled Chicago after prohibition became law on January 17th, 1920.

Stanley was a mousey little man who wore a brown trench coat throughout the year. His diminutive five-foot presence often went unnoticed in public settings. A bachelor, he lived alone in a small apartment on south Madison Avenue. He paid a maid to come in once a week and clean it.

Stanley’s routine involved going to Woolworth’s every morning to get coffee and a donut. After the new waitress was hired, he started ordering breakfast just so he could talk to her longer. He got lost watching her eyes and movements.

He spent hours wishing he had the guts to ask her out. But he was too timid. He got tongue-tied around women, which wasn’t exactly an endearing trait to woo them with.

When Stanley was young, his mother often told him eyes were the gateway to a person’s soul. For the first time he understood what she meant. The waitresses eyes told volumes when she laughed at a customer’s joke.

Her green eyes twinkled merrily as she encouraged others to laugh. Innocence peeked out from the corners like a shy child. They were the eyes of a saint, or movie star. He wasn’t sure which.

Stanley had been around the block long enough to know that eyes can lie. They can deceive you, like Big Al’s dark eyes. They appear to be smiling, even when he shoots someone. Anger also illuminates Big Al’s eyes like a jungle cat’s. He’d seen that more times than he cared to remember.

It was important to be able to read eyes. Stanley, in his lonely existence, spent a lot of time reading other people’s eyes. When he finished a financial report, one of Big Al’s goons would come get it, and deliver it to his boss.

He’d look at the goon’s eyes, and would see a dangerous blankness in them. Like he didn’t have a soul. He suspected that he didn’t, because he killed people on a mobster’s orders.

One morning while Stanley was chewing on a piece of bacon, two tough-looking customers came to the counter and sat down near him. Their eyes were ugly with suspicion and hate, as each gruffly ordered a coffee.

Big Al had a lot of enemies. Instinctively, he knew these two new guys on the block were enemies of Big Al. This was his territory, and when new thugs came into the neighborhood trouble always followed.

His hand shook slightly as he lifted his cup and took a sip of coffee. The two thugs were laughing and boasting about their work when two of Big Al’s men entered with Tommy Guns!

Just before they opened fire, Stanley leaped over the counter and covered Lisa’s body with his own! A second later their machine guns were drilling holes into the two thugs bodies, and haphazardly tracking the rest of the counter.

Stanley felt both bullets hit him in the back!

He collapsed to the ground with Lisa beneath him. His blood soaked her, as the machine guns kept stitching the counter. Miraculously, three other customers who were at the counter weren’t even wounded, as they plunged to the floor to escape the hot lead.

Big Al’s boys calmly walked out, leaving chaos behind them. The two thugs bodies were riddled with bullet holes. The only other person shot was Stanley. He was barely alive when the ambulance crew got there and took him to the hospital.

Stanley heard voices. He tried to open his eyes, but they felt heavy. A doctor was talking with a nurse at the end of his bed. He heard snatches of conversation; “The next 24-hours will tell…has anyone contacted his family?..Try to keep him comfortable…”

When he woke the next day the nurse called his doctor in. He came in and checked his bandages, instructing the nurse to change them when he was finished.

“Mr. Meltzer,” the doctor said, “you’re a lucky man. One of the bullets that struck you almost hit your heart. It’s going to be a while before you recover. We weren’t able to contact any of your family members. You do have a visitor. She says she’s your girlfriend.”

Stanley struggled to sit up in his excitement. “My girlfriend!” he said, like a parrot repeating a phrase.

“Easy now…you can’t move that fast yet. Do you want me to send her in?”

“Please! Yes, I’d love to see her.

When Lisa walked into the room she didn’t hesitate, and went straight to his bed and kissed him on the mouth.

“Thank you, Stanley” she said, with love in her eyes.

As It Stands, love can be sudden, and still last forever.

 

The Power Of Love

Love recoiled when Alex was born. 

He never got to suckle at his mother’s warm breast, because she left him with the Catholic Church, who named him Alexander, after the saint St. Alexander of Jerusalem.

He was born on March 1st, 1951, at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland. The overcrowded facility offered shelter to orphans, unwed mothers, and their children.

Times were hard for many Irish. There were more than a dozen other places like Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home throughout the land. The majority of children who died at these homes were buried on site, in unmarked graves. It was one of many secrets kept by the nuns (and their superiors) who ran the homes.

Growing up, Alex barely fought off starvation, like his peers. The weaker ones died and disappeared. The children heard the nuns and priests talk of love – Agape love, and other aspects of love – but couldn’t picture what love looked like.

The nuns never smiled, and were perpetually angry about something. Even the priests who came to bless the children at certain times of the year, frowned while preaching. The constant struggle to find food – between meals of mush with mystery meat – caused the children to be wary of one another.

As soon as a child was five-years-old, they were put to work. They worked at menial tasks inside, and outside in the fields until darkness fell. There were no chubby children there. Even the dominant ones – who managed to scavenger food better than the others – were thin and sickly looking.

One day, just after his twelfth birthday, Alex ran away.

He was hardened by the way he was raised, and willing to take his chances anywhere else, but the home he grew up in. What little food he brought with him, wrapped up in an extra shirt, only lasted two days before his stomach was growling with hunger.

He walked along the main road, after sticking to the woods, on the third day. A car would pass now and then, but no one seemed interested in a young boy. It was a rural area and travelers probably thought he lived nearby.

If he wasn’t so thirsty, his water ran out with his food, he might have been impressed with the endless green rolling hills ahead of him. It was big world, and he was just getting a taste of it.

Exhausted, Alex sat down on the side of the road. It was getting dark and he was weak from thirst and hunger. After a while, he fell asleep on the grass.

When he woke up the next morning, he was in a house on someone’s couch! A middle-aged man with black hair and beard, was sitting in a chair watching him.

“How is it that yer out, and ’bout on yer own?” he asked him.

“Please sir! Don’t take me back!” Alex cried out.

“Easy lad…no need to talk ’bout that okay? I din’t care what yer story be. It’s yer plans from here, that interests me.

Alex looked into the man’s eyes. They were dark brown with hints of gold. A deep scar stretched across his right cheek. He had a broken nose. His expression was neutral.

“I need a place to live,” he said, with fear dancing in his eyes.

“I see, lad. I’ll let you live with me, but ther be rules ye must follow.”

Relief poured through Alex’s body as he agreed to the mystery man’s request.

“Sir…what shall I call you?

“Call me Da,” he said, standing up.

The man looked at the skinny boy nervously tapping his fingers on his knee and smiled. This naive boy would fit very nicely into his future plans.

“Are ye hungry lad?”

“Yes sir…er Da!

“Well then boy…I’ve laid out some food for ya in the kitchen. Help yerself.”

As Alex bit into an apple he thought about how nice the man’s face got when he smiled. Was this love?,” he wondered as he took another bite.

Da, aka Seamus Brennen, was a lifelong thief. He made his living stealing from rural farms and homes far from the big city police. His old assistant was caught by the police six months ago and he’d been looking for a replacement since.

Finding Alex was a God send – even through Seamus didn’t believe in God. He was still young enough to train him in the tools of the trade. It was the devotion in Alex’s eyes that assured him he made the right pick.

The key to Alex’s attention was praising him as he learned how to pick locks and where to look for money in most homes. Their partnership flourished for seven years as they moved from one rural area to another, always a few steps ahead of the local police.

Alex was nearly a man now and like a son to Seamus. His wide shoulders and slender waist made him look like a body-builder. He was also taller than Seamus, with wild blond hair and hints of a beard.

His loyalty, and love, were always there. He never had trouble with his conscience, despite his religious upbringing.

One day, as Seamus took a nap in the car under the shade of a tree, Alex went for a walk. Hours later he came upon a young woman milking a cow in a field. He could see a barn not too far away, but no other people.

Like most young men of his age, Alex was curious and also getting funny feelings when around women. He watched her for a few minutes before slowly approaching. She was beautiful! Her long golden hair fell in ringlets as he stared in awe.

He thought, “This is what a princess looks like.” 

Suddenly she turned around and looked at him…and smiled. His heart did an Irish jig and he attempted to smile back. When he got closer, she was still smiling and asked him what his name was?

He blurted out his name, as his cheeks grew red with embarrassment, “Alex…and yours?

She picked up the milking pail and asked him if he’d like a drink of water?

“Oh, aye…” he stammered awkwardly.

“My name is Sarah. Follow me…”

He followed a few steps behind, admiring her youthful body in the plain white dress she was wearing. He felt a giddiness like nothing else before. She was singing an old shepherd’s song as they came to the barn.

She showed him a bench to sit on and went and pumped water from the well, after taking the milk into the house. When she returned with a full tin-cup of water he was trying to compose himself. He had zero experience with women. Da saw to that.

They sat and talked twenty minutes before someone called Sarah from within the house. He felt an electricity, but being a virgin he wasn’t sure what to do or say. Before she went into the house she asked him to come back tonight, and meet her here by the barn.

Their eyes locked for another moment – she smiled sweetly – then hurried off into the house.

When she got inside she went up to her father who was standing near the window looking out. Two of their neighbors were sitting by the cold fireplace with shotguns across their laps.

“Just one,” she reported. “The other one must be near by.”

The men discussed how they’d ambush at least one of the thieves who had been haunting several counties for nearly a decade. They’d catch them in the act if the damn police couldn’t!

When Seamus woke up Alex was sitting at the base of the tree humming a tune. He looked guiltily over when he saw Seamus was watching him. The smile left his face.

“Did ye take a good nap then lad?”

“Aye.”

‘Tis a good thing. We ha work to do tonight,” he smiled and opened the car door.

Alex got in. They drove down the road for a mile, before Seamus pulled off the road and into a grove of trees.

“Will we stay in the county tonight?” Alex anxiously asked.

“Aye! Our targit for tonight is nearby,” he said, getting out of the car. They snacked on chunks of stale bread and waited for nightfall.

Alex followed Seamus. There was only a sliver of a moon peeking out from the dark clouds. When they came to a familiar barn Alex froze. This was where Sarah lived. There was the bench they sat on.

Seamus picked up on his apparent confusion and concern.

“What’s wrong lad” he whispered.

A war was going on in Alex’s head. Was it love at first sight with Sarah? He knew Da loved him. Hadn’t he taken care of him all of these years? But she made his heart leap with her golden hair and luscious lips! Her eyes promised heaven if he returned that night.

“Let’s leave…” he nervously whispered back.

“Say what…?”

Then Seamus saw movement on the side of the house. Men with guns!

Without saying another word, he followed Alex who was now on the ground and crawling in the opposite direction towards their car. They could hear angry voices in the night as they furiously crawled for their lives.

It wasn’t until they got back in the car, and were miles down the road, before Seamus found his voice, “Thanks lad! How did ye know?”

When Alex told Seamus about his visit to the farm while he was taking a nap, a single tear slipped out of one of Seamus’s eyes. This kid he adopted for a life of crime loved him enough to admit what he did, and then saved them both from a certain ambush and possibly death.

“Ye know Alex,” Seamus said the next day, “I know some pretty lassies that would love to meet a lad like you!”

Alex blushed. “Thanks Da,” he said with all of his heart.

As It Stands, love doesn’t always come perfectly packaged, but can be counted on to do the right thing.