Blink If You Can Hear Me!

The huge cargo ship, Alushion, lumbered on in space, dwarfing some stars as it hurtled towards its destination.

The crew didn’t know what they were carrying, nor did most care. The majority of the 32 man-crew were old-timers who had been with the ship for years. There was one new crew member however.

His name was Gorm, and he was assigned all the shit duties aboard the ship. He was pretty sure that it would take years before he moved up enough to where he wasn’t cleaning bathrooms and grease pits.

But he didn’t plan on being a crew member forever. He was a former reporter for The World News in Gallax’s biggest city Aahorn. He quit his job because his editor wouldn’t let him write stories about state corruption and slavery.

What made him make the big move was a tip from a trusted informant. Gallax’s biggest cargo ship was carrying more than minerals and Gallaxian steel. It was also covertly carrying slaves!

Gorm was sure his editor wouldn’t let him go undercover and investigate it. So he quit and applied for a menial job as a crew member aboard the Alushion. He was in luck. One of the regulars was in an accident and they needed a replacement.

The adventure of it all appealed to Gorm’s endless imagination.

He would write a tell-all book about slavery that would catapult him to fame and wealth. Civilized Gallaxians abhorred slavery, but there was a criminal element that specialized in it.

Every city on Gallax had a problem with residents disappearing. No bodies ever showed up. The authorities seemed unable to do anything about it. There were hints of what was going on, like when one man escaped.

He was blinded and never knew that he was hidden in a building near the International Space Station. But he did hear broken conversations and shared those with authorities.

The slavers were well-organized. How they got their captives off world was a mystery. There were so many possibilities the authorities were stumped. Private ships, military ships, commercial travel ships, cargo ships, and on, and on.

There were literally thousands of possibilities to hide slaves.

The slavers would wait until they had at least 200 captives before transporting them. The captain of the Alushion was a corrupt scoundrel with high government connections. His arrangement with the slavers paid him three times his captain’s salary.

The whole scheme was the brainchild of Lancor Mey, the leader of the biggest underworld gang on Gallax. He partnered up with the ship’s captain, Kanor Olk, and for the past ten years they transported thousands of Gallaxians off world and to other planets that provided eager buyers.

The ship actually had two crews; the one that authorities saw consisting of 32 employees, and the one they didn’t see that consisted of three employees whose only job was to take care of the captives.

This was made possible by having a false hull that was converted into an area where the helpless captives were put in plastic pods that sporadically emitted sleeping gases. They were hooked up to feeder tubes which the small crew was supposed to monitor.

Gorm was so busy for the first three days that he didn’t have time to explore anything. No menial task was below him. On the fourth day he found himself with some free time. He was such a hard worker that some of the crew members were already letting up on him.

He learned that there were three decks and a hold of Galaxian steel and tons of minerals in it. He knew where the captain’s quarters was, the ship’s kitchen, the navigation deck, the crew’s quarters, and where the various supply rooms were.

A week later, Gorm was becoming discouraged. He still hadn’t seen anything suspicious, or heard any juicy conversations that might provide leads to where the slaves were being held.

He was starting to think he was a fool for listening to the tipster. He was stuck on a cargo ship that wouldn’t return to Gallax for three more weeks.

Then a break came.

He got to know all the crew members during his short time aboard, and when he saw a stranger slip out of the kitchen and scurry to a door that led below decks, he followed. He could hear the stranger’s footsteps as he disappeared down into the engine room.

Gorm looked at the small nuclear reactor that was the ship’s source of power. All eight feet of it was sheathed in steel plates with Gallaxian script engraved into them. Gorm was so close to the stranger that he had to duck behind the reactor when he stopped, and started to turn around checking to see if he was being followed.

Then the stranger put his hand on the wall and a hidden door slid open! Gorm cautiously watched where he put his hand. He had no doubt what he’d find if he went into that secret room.

He knew for sure there was one slaver, and more than likely others inside. He had no way of knowing how many of them. Nothing about the situation was good. What should he do?

He couldn’t stay here much longer before someone missed him. He considered telling the captain, but as he walked back to his quarters a growing sense of alarm told him not to. He really couldn’t trust anyone aboard.

After the encounter with the stranger he made a habit of going back to where the secret door was several times a day. His persistence paid off days before they were scheduled to land on Anterrean, Gallax’s main trading partner.

He was hiding behind the reactor which was directly across from the secret door when one of the slavers emerged. He hurried out. Gorm went to the spot and put his hand there.

At first he couldn’t see anything. The room was bathed in a soft blue light that didn’t throw shadows. Gorm saw another slaver slouched over a keyboard in front of a monitor. He was asleep.

As he felt his way around the room he saw another stranger stretched out on a bunk asleep. His luck was holding up. Then he came to a row of pods that held the captives. As he continued to search he found more rows. He stopped in front of one when he noticed a movement.

The captive in one pod opened his eyes and moved his head slightly.

“Blink if you can hear me,” Gorm said.

The Gallaxian blinked twice. The horror of the situation made Gorm’s blood run cold. “I’m going to try to help you,” he said.

The Gallaxian blinked again. Then his eyes grew wider!

Gorm didn’t hear anything until too late. A slaver slipped up behind him and put him in a chokehold. Darkness.

When he woke up he was in a room full of captives from planets throughout the solar system. He guessed he was on Anterrean. He felt like a damn fool! What made him think he would get away with going into that room?

He always wanted to experience adventures and to be a writer. Now he was a slave!

A slaver came into the room and roughly grabbed him by his arm, and led him outside to a platform before a group of prospective buyers.

“This pathetic creature,” the auctioneer droned, “...says he’s a writer. Who needs a writer? he asked the group. A couple of low bids were thrown out and the auctioneer acted disgusted, “I might as well slaughter him and sell his meat to the Zarks,” he grouched.

Finally a wealthy female Gallaxian made a bid that was acceptable. The auctioneer gave her the mobile control device that activated the shock collar on Gorm’s neck. It was standard slave issue.

Gorm followed her obediently down a series of well-maintained streets until they came to a big compound. His new master’s name was Illse, and she was the mistress of the large house.

“You’re job here is to tell stories to my children every night. If they like them, I’ll set you free after you tell a hundred consecutive tales.”

“Well… I don’t know…

“Writers are storytellers, are they not?”

“Yes…yes, you could call them that.”

“Good. Then we have an agreement?”

“Sure. By the way, what happens if I run out of stories or your kids don’t like them?”

“You become Zark meat,” she said conversationally.

Gorm gave a sick grin, and said, “When do we start?”

As It Stands, life is about adapting to situations.

A Journey To An Alternate Universe

Hector Perez was a cop in Cleveland, Ohio for twelve years, before he unwittingly stepped into an alternate universe.

One moment he was chasing a burglary suspect in the city’s eastern warehouse district, and the next moment he was standing alone in a deserted warehouse wearing some odd clothing! Beside a giddy feeling, he felt like he got off a merry-go-round, he felt fine.

Hector was a straight-forward kinda guy who didn’t believe in other dimensions, black holes, and alternate universes. His idea of a good time was drinking beer with his buddies and watching football games.

The sense of displacement made it hard for him to focus his thoughts. What should he do? Where was he? How did he get here? Was this a nightmare? Questions marched through his head like toy soldiers on parade.

He finally summoned up the energy, and courage, to explore his surroundings. The warehouse was huge, but empty. There were only two overhead lights, one on each end of the warehouse. Neither were on. But the sun shone through a skylight in the middle of the warehouse, illuminating a large area.

He went over to a row of frosted windows and tried to peer through them. Then he noticed his clothes again. He wasn’t wearing a uniform with his service revolver. Instead, he was wearing a dirty white t-shirt underneath a red and black checkered long sleeve wool shirt. He had faded Levi’s on and cowboy boots. His leather belt had a sheath for the hunting knife in it.

Looking for an opening, he found a large sliding door big enough to drive a truck through. It took all of his strength to slide it open on the rusted track. He managed to move it far enough to go through it.

Outside there were a row of small mom and pop stores, a gas station, and a car lot. He could see a large water tower at the outskirts of the small town. It said, “The Devil’s Half Acre,” in faded blue paint.

Hector was a man with little imagination. His world was cut and dried. He prided himself on his logic. He was a good cop, a great dad, and husband. Nothing in his life prepared him for this abrupt change to his world.

He walked over to the row of stores. The shoe store had a few customers inside. As he walked to the next business, a clothing store, a man outside said, “What the hell you doing here Billy Joe? You know the law is after you!

Hector stopped and stared at him. “What? Are you talking to me?”

“You know I am, Billy Joe. Cut the shit, Mom said you better get out-of-town fast!

“What? My name is Hector. Hector Perez. I’m a cop!”

“Wuuuweeee! Billy Joe! It’s me, your brother Lester! Save that talk for a loony doc if they catch you brother.”

“No! You don’t understand! I really…”

Look out brother! That’s Sheriff Tidwell’s Jeep! Run!”

Lester grabbed his hand and pulled him. “Hurry! C’mon! I don’t think he sees us.

Hector gave up and followed him. It felt weird running from the law. Especially when he didn’t even know what he did! Lester led him into a shabby neighborhood a couple of blocks away.

They jumped fences and ran across yards until Lester stopped at what looked like a deserted house. It turned out to be his home, along with his mother and sister. Lester slammed the front door behind them.

“Didn’t you listen to your brother Billy Joe? You need to leave this town pronto!” mom greeted him.

“There’s something wrong with his head Ma. He says he’s a “beaner” named Hector Perez.”

Mom moved closer to Hector and studied him for a moment. “You okay, Billy Joe?” she asked.

Hector shook his head in frustration. “No. I’m not okay, and I’m not Billy Joe. I don’t even know where I’m at!”

Mom looked over at Lester and his sister, Marley, to gage their reactions. The worry in their eyes told her they were thinking the same thing she was…Billy Joe lost his mind. It must have happened when he killed the Sheriff’s brother in the brawl at The Alibi nightclub last night.

The word was all over town; Billy Joe Baxter killed Blaine, Sheriff Tidwell’s baby brother. The little town was fairly abuzz with the news. It was their first killing in over 60 years. The weekly newspaper put out a special edition tracing the town’s history of murders/killings going back 130 years.

Hector realized these people could get into trouble if they were caught hiding him.

“Have the police come here yet?” he asked.

Surprised at his rational question, mom said, “They came by early this morning. The sheriff, and his three deputies searched the house.”

“You’re right. I need to leave. I don’t want to endanger you guys.”

Lester looked him in the eye and asked, “Are you all right brother?” 

Hector hesitated, then said, “Yeah…I’m fine. Gotta go!

Mom came over and kissed him. Ten-year-old Marylou gave him a hug. Lester gave him a knuckle bump as he went out the door.

Hector was trying to figure out how he could logically handle his situation while he cautiously walked towards a wooded area not far from town. He took off his checkered shirt and wrapped it around his waist as he walked along in the hot sun.

When he got to the woods he saw right away it was being actively logged. A swath was cut right through the center of the forest. He veered to the left of the operations and looked for a place where he could sit down and try to plot out his next move.

He found a shady spot and sat down with his back against a tall pine tree. The sun was on it’s way down when he decided he needed to go back to the warehouse. By the time he got back into town it was dark. He didn’t have any trouble locating the massive building.

The door was still partly opened as he left it. His cop radar sensed a threat and he hesitated before entering. The sheriff stepped out from the shadows with his gun pointed at Hector.

“Had a feeling I might catch you coming here tonight. Leaving the door opened helped. Are you ready to meet your maker Billy Joe?” Sheriff Tidwell asked.

“Aren’t you going to arrest me?” Hector asked.

“Shit no! You killed my baby brother you murdering bastard! I ain’t going to let some judge save your sorry ass with a life sentence. Turn around!”

Hector complied.

The sheriff slipped his handcuffs on him and gave him a shove.

“Inside. Start walking. I’ll tell you where to go,” the Sheriff assured him.

“Time’s up Billy Joe!” He shouted, while leveling his gun at him.

Hector broke out into a desperate run across the room expecting to hear the shot any moment. Then he heard it!

He was back in Cleveland chasing a burglar who just took a shot at him from a warehouse door! He pulled his service revolver and returned fire!

As It Stands, have you ever wondered if there is an alternate universe?

Dead Eyes

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

Detective Bryce Nance left the crime scene after working it for two hours.

On his way back to the office he thought about retiring…again. He’d been threatening to retire for months. He was tired of waging war with death dealers. His brain was scorched with images of dead eyes, and mangled bodies.

Thirty years on the force now. Was he ready to leave? He wasn’t sure he wanted to retire. What would he do? He’d been a cop all of his entire adult life. He’d drive his wife of thirty years nuts, if all he had to do was piddle around the house!

As he filled out his report later he thought about the victim, a short oriental man who had both hands and feet cut off. The coroner said he bled to death from his massive wounds. No other wounds were found on the body.

It was the second body this week with the same wounds. Talk of a serial killer made its rounds in local newspapers and news television. When the second murder was announced the hashtag #HandAndFootPsycho popped up on social media platforms.

The chief-of-police, Dwayne Fitsimmons, got a call from the mayor who hated all the coverage the case was getting. Fitsimmons, in turn, called a meeting with his detectives and rank and file cops.

When he was done berating his men he let them go to work. Detective Bryce walked up to him afterward and asked for a minute of his time. When they got to his office and he told him that he was considering retiring, the chief rolled his eyes skyward and pounded his fist on the desk!

“You’ve got to be kidding me Bryce! You’re the best detective we have! You’re good for at least five more years. Is it a raise? I’ll give you a raise!”

“No…it’s not about the money chief. I’m tired of seeing dead eyes in my dreams.”

“Awww…Bryce me lad…”

“Don’t give me that phony Irish accent, I’m serious.”

“Is that the way it is? Then you might want to check with your union steward, but you still have two years to go before voluntary retirement is possible. It’d be a terrible thing to lose after all these years of service because…”

“I’m outa here!

Chief Fitsimmons lit up a cigar as Detective Bryce stormed out the door. He took a couple of puffs and shook his head. He had enough things to worry about.

Two days later.

Detective Bryce came up with a working theory.

Both victims were found in city streets. Not inside somewhere. Whoever committed the crimes must have acted swiftly because there were no witnesses. Both murders happened at night on what were busy roads during the day.

He thought about the fastest way the killer could escape the murder scene. After studying his notes, he found that there was a sewer opening just feet away at both of the murder scenes.

He theorized that the killer must have used the sewer to get away. The next step was to check out the sewer system, but he wasn’t going to do that alone. People got lost in New York’s historic underground tunnels.

He needed his partner and a guide.

Back at the station house he spotted Detective Jimmy Jones, who was recently put on the case with him.

“Jimmy! I need to find someone who knows the tunnels and would be willing to serve as a guide for us.”

“Us?”

“Yeah, I have a theory how the murderer is getting around. I need your help partner.”

“Okay. I do happen to know someone who’ll fit the bill. He’ll do anything for money. He lives on the streets. I’ll get the word out right now.”

Detective Bryce watched him go. He was ten years younger than himself. Still vigorous and ambitious. He was a good man.

The next day.

Detective Jimmy pried open the steel cover and with the help of Louie (their guide) slid it aside. It was after 11:00 o’clock and the side street they picked was quiet. Louie went down first, followed by the two detectives.

They all had flashlights and were waving them around in different directions. The detectives switched their shoes out for boots. Louie wore his usual black high top sneakers.

Detective Bryce pulled a map from his inside jacket pocket. The three of them had already looked it over before going down. Without a word, he picked a direction and Louie led the way.

They went to the sewer opening nearest the last victim. The detectives bent over and studied the ground. Detective Jimmy found the first droplets of blood. Their were dried out, but recognizable on the narrow walkway alongside the sewer floor. More followed. Then abruptly stopped.

Whatever had been dripping must have been covered up, because they lost the trail. They decided to call it a night after taking photos and making notes of where the blood spots were. A forensic team would examine it in the morning.

Four days later.

Detective Bryce was sitting at his desk when the forensic report came back. The blood they saw was the same as the victim’s. There was no doubt about it now. There was a monster loose in the sewer system.

As he considered the report his phone rang. Another victim!

When Detective Bryce got to the scene police had it roped off. The victim was a woman. She was missing her hands and feet. The pools of blood were still sticky and flies were already buzzing around the body.

He looked over a few feet and saw a sewer grate. He was back.

The media had a holiday with the sensational murders. They’d attracted national attention since the second murder. The third poured fuel upon the fires of speculation on who would do such a thing?

The next day, Louie and the detectives went down the grate near the last murder. A very nervous Louie demanded twice his usual fees, and stuck to them like glue. As they came to an intersection of tunnels something flew out of the shadows and scooped a screaming Louie up like a baby and ran off with him!

Both detectives pulled their service revolvers and gave chase. Whatever grabbed Louie must have been incredibly strong! They could hear his cries of terror ahead of them. Then they stopped.

When they finally got to Louie he was missing his hands and feet! His eyes were still open in shock. Detective Bryce stopped and kneeled alongside of him. He was still faintly breathing!

His partner had kept the chase up. There was nothing he could do for Louie, but he could help his partner. Holding the flashlight in front of him he trotted as fast as he could through the foot deep muck. There were two openings ahead. He stopped in between them and listened.

He heard a noise at the same time he was hit from behind, sending him sprawling in the muck. He looked up at the giant pale figure eerily illuminated by his flashlight on the ground. He was bald and had dead white eyes!

The albino horror pulled a hatchet from his rope belt and slowly approached him. Detective Bryce fumbled for his shoulder holster and gun. The thing bent over and brought the hatchet down, lopping his left foot off!

He could hear himself screaming in agony when the shots went off! Detective Jimmy was in a firing stance squeezing off careful shots! Then he fainted.

The giant staggered backward, but managed to stay upright. Detective Jimmy reached down into his partner’s coat and grabbed his pistol.

The thing was howling in pain and anger. Detective Jimmy fired again. This time the giant went down and stayed there.

Later on.

Detective Bryce opened his eyes and looked down at his feet. One was missing, but he was alive. He was in a hospital and his wife was at his side. She leaned over and kissed him when she saw he was awake.

“Jimmy?” he asked.

“He’s outside. I’ll get him for you,” she said.

A minute later Detective Jimmy came in with Chief Fitsimmons.

How are you doing partner?” Jimmy asked.

“Great. I didn’t need that foot anyway. So what was that thing that attacked us?”

An awkward silence.

“It’s body wasn’t there when we sent a team back down to get it,” the chief said. “Try to look at the bright side. You can retire now!”

Detective Bryce looked over at his partner and asked, “So who do you think took the body?

As It Stands, add this tale to the many others about New York’s famous underground.

Fear

They met during the night like thieves planning a robbery.

But they weren’t thieves. They were some of the most prominent people in Elsdale’s population of 1,623. Community leaders led by the small town’s mayor, Jasper Corning, a corpulent man who found walking difficult.

Ever since the family of strangers moved in, people talked about how different they were. Of particular concern, they were Muslims. The two women wore hijabs that covered their head, hair, and necks.

The three men wore traditional Taqiyahs (round caps) and had long dark beards. To the white majority of Elsdale it was like being invaded by a foreign country. They spoke another language and lived by Sharia Law, which the townspeople feared would somehow take over the American system of justice someday.

The two women, Manahil and Eshal, went to the general store, and the post office, once a week. Every purchase they made at the store was scrutinized by the owners who shared their observations at the VFW bar every evening.

The postmaster worried every time a package came for the Muslims that it might have bomb-making materials inside. They got lots of letters in their post office box. It was always packed tight by the time the women came by for their weekly visit.

The Muslims lived in an old two-story house just outside the city limits. When they purchased the house – with cash – word quickly got around town. Very few people had actually talked with the Muslims. Mostly Manahil and Eshal when they were on their weekly errands.

Hector St. George, the towns only banker, talked with the three brothers, Aaban, Rayyan, and Zayan Azimi, while handling the transaction. The bank had repossessed the house years ago, and no one seemed interested in buying it.

Until then the Azima brothers appeared with lot’s of money. They even opened a bank account, which secretly thrilled St. George (he didn’t want the others thinking he was getting chummy with them) who worshipped money more than any god.

The towns sheriff, Roscoe Winters, a Vietnam veteran with undiagnosed PTSD, spends most of his time on a computer reading about conspiracies in America, and drinking too much at the VFW bar.

As the weeks turned to months, the rumors surrounding the Muslims grew like a malignant cancer. They held orgies; the men were secret ISIS members; there was a stockpile of weapons in the old house, and on it went.

Fear replaced curiosity in the little community after six months. When the women came to town they could feel the tension, as accusing eyes followed their every move. As the stares seemed to grow more malignant they told the men what was going on.

The three brothers were dismayed, but not surprised. They seen this kind of thing before when they bought their first house in upstate New York after immigrating to America five years ago.

When their parents were murdered by extremists in Iraq they took the family fortune and fled. Two of the brothers, Zayan and Aaban, were married to Manahil and Eshal. The eldest brother Rayyan never got married, because his childhood sweetheart was viciously murdered by thugs before they could.

Fear finally materialized into action.

That’s why the community leaders were gathered at night in the mayor’s house. The rumors had some of them fearing for their lives. The sense that one day they would attack the town with automatic weapons shouting “Allah Akbar!” swirled among the group, sending shivers down some spines.

“Okay boys…settle down. What are we here for?”

“Because you asked us too Jasper,” Larry Henderson, the general store owner, replied.

“Thanks Larry. Now that that’s established, what are we going to do about the Muslims?”

“I think we ought to search their house and see what they’re up to,” John Baker, the postmaster said.

“There’s one problem with that Johnny, it’s called a search warrant. I don’t have one,” Sheriff Winter said, after downing a shot of 20 year-old Scotch.

The group broke out into a babble of suggestions that were going nowhere when the mayor shouted, “Enough! We ain’t getting a damn thing done here crowing like a bunch of roosters with no hen in sight!”

The room settled down to inaudible grumbles.

“Here’s what we can do. Larry, you can say you overheard the two women talking about making bombs. The sheriff can go to the county judge tomorrow and get a warrant to search their house. How’s that sound?”

Murmurs of agreement echoed around the room.

“I’ll leave before noon tomorrow to go see Henry (the county judge) and get that warrant. Right now I’m going to have a few beers. Anyone with me?”

Everyone in the room, except the mayor who was sitting in his favorite office swivel chair, followed the sheriff out the door and into the night.

The next day.

Sally Yates, a waitress at the only restaurant in town, “Chuck’s,” was the first to hear the roar of motorcycles. The noon crowd had thinned down to two old customers who were known to spend most of the day there drinking coffee and talking.

The loud intrusive roar made her look out the window. Her pulse quickened in fear as the riders of six motorcycles dismounted from their Harley’s. They were all members of the Mongols, one of the most feared motorcycle groups in America!

Sheriff  Winters had a shot of bourbon with Judge Henry Goodnight in the judge’s library. The judge had signed the warrant without question.

Back in town.

The bikers took over the restaurant and chased the two old men away. They were having fun baiting Sally who gamely tried to pretend everything was all right while taking their orders. The fun and games finally stopped, and their leader assaulted Sally!

Later the bikers roamed around town looking for more trouble. They went into the general store, and when Larry tried to stop them from helping themselves to whatever they fancied, they beat him and left him for dead!

Then they helped themselves to the hand guns behind the counter in locked cabinets. They broke the lock off with ease, and the leader passed them out to the others. He located the ammunition and gave each a box.

Armed, they went back out and headed for the VFW Hall. By now, people had seen them and were running for cover. The main street was deserted by the time they reached the VFW Hall.

The patrons inside didn’t have a chance. They were caught unawares and herded over into a corner of the room, while other gang members looted the bar. The group settled in for some serious drinking.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Winters didn’t even notice the main street was deserted. It was getting near dark and his first thought was to go to the VFW Hall for a quick drink, or two.

The room went silent when the sheriff walked in. Someone dropped a bottle on the floor and the shooting began! Rosco was hit immediately in the left arm, but he manged to draw his service revolver and return fire!

One of the biker’s spun around and fell to the floor, bleeding from a chest wound. Bullets sprayed the room like angry bees as everyone tied to get out of the line of fire. Rosco was hit again in the right side of his chest but kept moving and somehow got out the door and into the street.

A lone biker followed him and popped off two misses. Rosco turned and calmly fired back at him. One of the bullets found its mark and the biker staggered back inside the VFW Hall, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

Rosco summoned up the last of his strength and headed towards the nearby general store. Larry lay near the doorway, battered beyond recognition and barely alive. Rosco went to him and looked for a pulse. He was alive. Rosco’s wounds weakened him so much that he passed out.

Manahil and Eshal felt more uneasy than usual when they got to town. The streets were deserted. They went inside the general store and found Larry and Rosco passed out on the floor. Larry’s wounds soaked his shirt with blood.

The women quickly checked them out and found gauze, band aids, and tape, and treated them both right there. Eshal was looking at Larry’s wounds and easily recognized them as bullet holes. She had seen her share in war-torn Iraq.

Manahil went to the phone on the counter but only got a buzzing. Someone had cut the phone lines. Making a bold decision she told Eshal that she was going for the men. She knew Rayyan would know what to do.

He had fought in the Iraqi armed forces until Saddam Hussein took over, and he had to run from the purge that followed. He was a captain in the special forces. The other two brothers had no military experience, but grew up in hard times when they had to use weapons to survive the government’s attacks.

Rayyan listened calmly as Eshal told him what she found. Nodding he turned to his brothers and said, “We cannot let these people be slaughtered by those men. Allah would never forgive us.”

The brothers both nodded, and the three of them headed for town.

When they got to the general store they found Manahil listening to the sheriff’s heart. She looked at Rayyan and said, “He’s barely alive. We must get a doctor.”

Meanwhile Zayan and Aaban were behind the counter picking a lock on a chain that covered a row of rifles. There were repeating Winchesters, hunting rifles, and two AR 15’s. They took the two AR 15’s and asked Rayyan what he wanted.

“The Winchester is fine,” he said as they rummaged for ammunition.

As the three men set out to find the bikers Rosco woke briefly, “The VFW building,” he croaked and passed back out again.

The biker’s Harley’s were still parked in front of the restaurant. Rayyan started one up and gunned the engine! He drove it down the street and sat outside the VFW Hall. Zayan and Aaban both pulled up next to him, and they all three revved their engines.

Inside, the sound immediately caught the biker’s attention. One of them was dead, and another was badly wounded. Three innocent hostages were killed by errant bullets. The remaining four Mongols roared in anger and charged out the front door…into a hail of gunfire!

The next day.

Sheriff Winter’s got help in time by the town doctor, who was able to stabilize him and have him transported to the country hospital in nearby Turnsville. County police and the FBI were all over the town talking to witnesses and processing the crime scenes.

Mayor Corning was visiting Rosco when he handed him a piece of paper. It was the warrant.

“What about this,” he asked.

Rosco took it, and tore it in half.

“It’s about time we quit letting fear rule our lives,” he said.

As It Stands, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

The Mercenary’s Story of Redemption

I know that I’m dying.

The nurses try to act like I’ll survive, but they know it’s just a death watch. The same goes for my doctor whose expressionless face can’t hide the fact that my mangled body was on borrowed time.

Their all probably glad that they speak Spanish, and can pretend they don’t know English and have to answer any tough questions I might ask.

There were no family or friends waiting for me outside, or by my bedside. I’ve been a lone operator for too many years without making attempts to reconnect with my family in North Carolina.

My best two friends from high school died by my side during a raid in a filthy little village in Southern Sudan. The locals were ready for us and we walked into an ambush. It was a miracle I escaped from that death trap.

I always wanted to be in the military. The moment I graduated from high school I enlisted in the Marines. After serving three combat tours in Afghanistan I came back to the states feeling restless.

I wanted more action than what I got in Afghanistan which was a lot of sitting around on firebases or going out on patrols. In fairness, I did get into a few furious firefights that saw heavy losses on both sides during a month-long campaign in Kandahar city while forcing the Taliban out of the area.

I don’t feel any physical pain right now because they got me doped up good with some heavy-duty pain-killer. I’m full of lead that the doctors said they didn’t want to extract for fear of killing me. They’d rather I just die without their help.

I hope the two government soldiers at my door didn’t intimidate you.

I’ve been a mercenary for ten years before my luck ran out on this last mission. It’s my last mission that I wanted to talk to you about.

I was working for the government here hunting drug traffickers when the group I was with were ambushed. Someone didn’t do their advance intel very well and the resulting firefight was fierce and short.

I managed to escape and ran into the jungle where I knew my training would help me elude my pursuers. Throughout the afternoon I kept moving deeper into the vast jungle. When night fell and the slight light that penetrated the forest canopy during the day was gone, it was nearly impossible to see.

I found a mound of rocks big enough to sit on. It was in a small clearing and a shaft of moonlight illuminated it. It felt like a special place. I rested and listened for any sounds of pursuit, despite the fact I was sure that I lost my enemies.

I don’t claim to be a good man. I’ve killed too many people in my line of work to pull that argument off. My thirst for action finally proved my undoing, as you can see. But I like to think I’m a good man at heart.

It’s just that the gods of war saw something in me. Enticing me with exotic locals and customs. I worshipped them in every firefight I ever got into. My blood boiling with the excitement of death-dealing.

After sitting on the mound of rocks for a couple of hours I saw a faint flickering light in the jungle ahead of me. I unslung my Heckler & Koch MP5K and cautiously moved towards the flickering light.

I was crawling by the time I got near enough to make out a small fire pit surrounded by what I first thought was indigenous people. But the more I focused and watched the light illuminate the small gathering, the more I realized they didn’t look human.

Shadows danced on faces and bodies straight from a nightmare!

The monstrosities were cooking a small mammal over the fire. They were shorter than a normal human and thickly built. There appeared to be males, females and even children in the group.

I couldn’t help notice that they didn’t seem to have weapons. I could faintly hear them talking in an unknown tongue. They seemed like a peaceful people. I slung my weapon back on my back, and cautiously stood up.

As I approached the group they stopped talking and looked at me with naked fear! I held my hands up to show them I meant no harm. It was the strangest sight I ever saw. This group of really ugly, husky dwarves.

As I stood watching them gunfire broke out! I watched them get slaughtered. As their murderers came out from concealment I turned my weapon on them! Not sure how many I killed.

Obviously, they pumped me full of lead too. But not before government forces killed the remaining attackers and took over the area. They buried the dead dwarfs in a deep hole dug by an old bucket loader that belched smoke and threatened to die itself.

I watched how efficiently they did the job as the medic was treating me. Then they brought me here to this hospital and said they notified the American embassy.

What I want to tell you is there’s something going on here that the government doesn’t want the rest of the world to know about. What I saw was pure evil. Would you, when you leave here, tell someone what I told you?

I’d like to die knowing that I did something good – if even, only once. One more thing, don’t make eye contact with those guards on your way out.

As It Stands, we all have good hearts, but sometimes we ignore them in the quest for thrills.

A Day in the Life Of Others

Shane was a unique child with a secret.

As long as he could remember, he was able to step inside other people’s bodies and minds. As a child he accidentally discovered this power one day when he suddenly found himself in his father’s body, looking out his horn-rimmed glasses!

Because he had an unfettered imagination, the experience didn’t scare him. His curiosity was unquenchable. He didn’t try to understand what happened. He accepted it without reservation, and learned to revel in his take overs.

By the time he reached his teens he was able to control his power. The days of haphazard take overs were gone, replaced with an iron will that only used his power when he wanted to.

His parents, family, and friends never suspected that Shane had such power. In all outward appearances he was a normal kid. Instinctively, he knew not to tell others about his ability to inhabit someone else’s body.

Over a period of years Shane honed his abilities to both inhabit, and control a host body. No amount of book learning could have taught him what he knew about people’s habits, and what really motivated them.

Because Shane had developed a conscience and had a good heart, he didn’t try to exploit his power. By the time he was 19 years-old, he’d cut back to just a couple of take overs a week. The novelty didn’t entirely go away, however.

There was nothing more fascinating than being inside someone’s thoughts and actually controlling them physically. A lesser person probably wouldn’t have been satisfied with just visiting a host. They might have used the host to do bad things.

The incident at the Mall.

One afternoon, as Shane was cruising the mall people watching, something attacked his mind! He felt an evil presence trying to take control of him! The assault was so sudden that he had to sit down on a bench and collect himself.

Summoning up all of his will power he drove the thing from his body. The encounter left him badly shaken and for days afterward he couldn’t get it off his mind.

He came to the conclusion that someone like himself was out there – and they had attacked him. He also came to the conclusion that his attacker was someone totally unlike himself.

Whoever it was, they were hostile and aggressive. An instant enemy. A dark presence.

The next attack came while Shane was having his first cup of coffee for the day. He was sitting in his favorite lounge chair sipping coffee and still chasing away the cobwebs after a restless night, when the attack came!

This time he could see an image in his head. A man who looked exactly like him! His dark eyes were glittering with rage and hate! Shane could feel him tugging at his control, trying to mentally overpower him.

The physic struggle went on for minutes. Once again, summoning up all of his power, Shane drove the angry presence off. This time he felt weak afterward. The confrontation had drained him.

It also made him realize that he could no longer just passively wait for the next attack. He might not win the next encounter.

It came to him that the best thing to do was get proactive and start searching for his silent enemy. He was going to reverse the situation by attacking his enemy first.

He spent hours concentrating on a physic defense to thwart unsuspecting attacks. When he was satisfied with the results he turned his power outward, using it like physic radar.

Old lore has it that we all have a doppelgänger, a twin, somewhere on earth. It’s considered a harbinger of bad news in some cultures. Still other traditions say that your doppelganger is an evil twin.

Shane found his evil twin living just a city away!

When he attacked him he had success, at first. He found out his name was Vince and he was a serial killer with no conscience and a lot of rage. Then he was bumped back hard into his own head!

The die was cast.

What followed was a classic case of good versus evil. The two men fought mental battles daily, each trying to wear the other out. But they were too evenly matched for one to gain ascendancy over the other.

The battle came down to a physical confrontation after two weeks.

The combatants agreed to meet in a park one night and take their fight to a new level. Shane went to the agreed upon meeting place during the day and hid a gun in the roots of a giant ancient Oak.  Just in case.

They agreed not to come armed, but Shane didn’t trust his evil twin. He learned enough to know Vince wouldn’t think twice about cheating on an agreement. He spent the rest of the day meditating and centering his physic forces.

There was a full moon that night. When the two men approached one another the animals in the park went silent. The ground shuddered when they flew at each other like wild beasts!

Vince didn’t bring a gun, but he did bring a hunting knife! It came out within minutes of pounding each other with their fists! He slashed Shane’s arms as he tried to protect himself. He finally broke away and retreated towards the ancient Oak.

Vince followed closely, roaring like a murderous beast in pursuit!

When he reached the tree he turned in time to dodge Vince’s thrust with the knife. The gun lay barely concealed at the twisted base of the tree. Shane ducked under another wild slash and retrieved the gun in one motion.

He didn’t stop shooting until the revolver was empty.

The next day, while treating his knife wounds, intrusive thoughts bothered him. His encounter with his evil twin had left him sullied. No longer could he say he never killed anyone. It felt like a fall from grace.

There was also that new little voice in his head that talked about things that were evil.

As It Stands, I’ve always been fascinated with twins.

The Price For Being Wrong

2089 – The Live or Die studio of TV’s favorite game show

“Not another cancellation!” the producer wailed.

“I couldn’t do anything about it,” the director claimed.

The fact of the matter was, it was getting increasingly difficult to find people desperate enough to be a contestant on Live or Die, where Losing means a horrible death, and Living means being rewarded with a huge cash prize.

The desperately poor and the homeless, where 99 percent of the contestant populations came from, were thinning out after twenty-five years of producing the show. The talent scouts sent out to recruit volunteers had to become more inventive to get warm bodies for the show which ran five days a week.

In a last attempt to provide a steady stream of contestants, the show’s lawyers lobbied politicians in Washington D.C. to make a law allowing prisoners to volunteer for the show. There were certain restrictions – like no one who committed a capital crime, such as murder, would be allowed to participate.

The law was passed for several reasons.

One, the producer’s brother was the president of the United States.

Two, there was no shortage of corrupt politicians on both side of the aisle to support the new law.

Three, The president’s base was full of avid fans of Live or Die.

The show promoted it’s new format for weeks before introducing the first contestant.

Volunteer contestant Raul Castile, who was serving a life sentence for dealing illegal drugs across the country, got the call.

The show’s two hosts, Drew and Lorna, escorted Raul onto the stage. The in-house audience was rumbling excitedly, and broke out in applause when they appeared. Tension crackled through the eager audience that was already smelling blood.

“Thank you…thank you! I’m pleased to announce the first edition of the Prisoner Phase of Live or Die,” Drew said.

Lorna walked to stage left and pointed out two doors – both painted black with gold handles.

“The one thing that hasn’t changed about the game is we still only have two doors. Heaven or hell? Life or death? Who knows?” Lorna asked the audience.

“It’s your time Raul!” Drew shouted, to everyone’s delight.

Raul walked over to the two doors and studied them for a minute. hell,” he thought, “It’s better than being locked up the rest of my life.”

He opened the door on the right.

The moment he passed through the threshold he was grabbed by two robotic arms! The android took him over to a metal operating table, slamming him down hard on the cold surface.

Restraints popped out and secured him firmly on his back. Raul’s howls of horror thrilled the audience who were sensing a coming blood bath. The android put on a tall white chef’s hat and waved to the audience.

The deafening roar that followed set the scene to come. The android held up a power saw and brought it down! Raul’s right hand fell to the stage floor. His left hand quickly followed.

The audience was chanting “More! More!” as Raul’s life blood spurted from his wrists. With a flair worthy of the best showman, the android lopped off Raul’s feet and bowed to the audience.

When the android picked up a plate from the metal tray next to the bed, the audience quieted down and watched in fascination as it produced a knife and a fork. The android delicately sliced off a piece of meat from Raul’s chest. Then another. Until he had a plate stacked high with human flesh.

Raul was still miraculously alive, but his screams were reduced to whimpers when the robot fed him the first piece of meat!

The crowd went wild! The producer and the director stood backstage and smiled. The show would go on. The one thing they learned over the years was that contestants that got away weren’t very popular with the public.

It was an action show, and as such it was time to change the rules. Unknown to anyone, but some crooked politicians, the producer, the director and some stage hands (sworn to secrecy), both doors would now have a nasty surprise!

There would be no lucky prisoners (as he promised the White House), and the show would have more action than ever before.

As It Stands, this dystopian view of the future was inspired by how extreme our society is becoming.