Treavor’s Ark 2167: The Exodus

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It was the biggest spaceship ever built.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Traveler’s Strange Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He got up and pulled over two chairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As It Stands, happy travels, my friend!

A King Comes In The Age of No Reason

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Barka decapitated one of the trolls with a vicious backstroke of his sword, then spun around in one smooth motion and cleaved the other troll’s skull open like a ripe melon.

The remaining two trolls turned and ran as fast as their stubby legs would carry them. He wiped the blood off of his sword, Avenger, on one of the dead troll’s rough jerkin. After slipping the mighty sword into the sheath on his back, he set out on the King’s Highway.

The highway was eons old, built by a civilization that no longer lived in Mid-Earth. The cobblestones still showed hints of gold, the color the whole road was once painted. It connected the three Kingdoms of Asortia, and was a major trade road that saw commerce for hundreds of years. But that was before the cataclysmic events brought on by two evil wizard brothers seeking complete control of Mid-Earth.

The ensuing war between the wizard brothers and their minions, versus the First People, the Elfish people, and the white wizard Heroon Dar, nearly destroyed Mid-Earth. Some survivors were so scarred by a lifetime of brutality and war they became hermits, wandering off into the hinterlands in search of peace. Others clustered together in little groups to protect themselves. 

One of the wizard brothers was dead. The other, Jeezera, was confined by a spell that Heroon Dar cast on him, and was buried deep within an ancient salt mine. Afterwards the white wizard disappeared without an explanation. Most of the remnants of the First People and the Elfish went their own ways when the war ended. They returned to their burned-down villages and rebuilt them. Decades passed as Mid-Earth rested from the cataclysmic times that threatened to destroy all living things.

During that time, a tribe of trolls from the East moved into the forests near the Great Plains where the First People were settled. Their presence wasn’t welcomed by the Elfish People who lived there first. The brutish trolls were not only warlike, but they were not driven by any ideology or king. They had no stated purpose to their lives, other than to kill, eat, and to procreate.

It was during this Age of No Reason when Barka, the son of a First Human, and an Elf, was born. The village he was raised in was a rare equal mix of both races. All he knew growing up was a harmonious way of life where respect was important. He spoke both languages fluently and was exposed to both races histories preserved in tomes written by long dead scholars.

One of his First Human traditions was that a man must learn to use a sword to defend himself and his family. An Elfish tradition was the handing down of a magical family sword to the first-born son. Barka was given the sword Avenger on the day he left the village. His mother presented him with the sword, and an Elfin bow and arrows. 

When he chose to leave home his parents understood their son was a seeker of knowledge and his destiny lay beyond their little village. His lust for adventure made it a given the day would come when he needed to set out on the King’s Highway and to explore.  Tears were shed, and Barka left the only place in Mid-Earth he knew.

The rumors he heard about trolls raiding on the King’s Highway were true. He killed two on his first day out. Keeping a sharp eye on the tree line, he briskly walked down the road towards the ancient capital of one of the three fabled kingdoms; Stroom. Before leaving home he heard numerous rumors that a new kingdom was springing up in the North, in the vicinity of Stroom. It seemed like a good place to start his anticipated travels.

It was a week before he ran into other people on the road. A group of six were on their way to Shan Tar, a growing city that Barca assumed was the new kingdom in it’s infancy. They talked about their travels and troubles with trolls who seemed to be everywhere. One of the men, the oldest in the group, told Barca that the new city was in response to the growing troll threat. Small villages were being sacked with no survivors left behind. Farmer’s crops were being stolen. The attacks were becoming more frequent and more organized. Village elders realized it was time for the First Human’s to come together in force to resist the growing tide of terror.

Barca listened closely to the old man, sometimes interrupting with questions. When they came within site of a large stone wall and tower, the small group broke up and went in different directions. Some had relatives already there. As Barca walked through the city he was impressed with how well the people worked together. He seldom saw anyone who appeared to be in charge. Those who were leaders in the massive mission to build safe fortifications worked alongside the laborers. He sensed the single driving purpose that drove them all – survival.

He also had a sense his destiny was here. 

The leaders of the burgeoning city’s progress met weekly to discuss challenges and solutions to them. There were twelve leaders. All chosen by the people for their knowledge and skills. The first time Barca went to one he sat nearby with a group of onlookers and was silent; listening intently and observing how they interacted. When their meeting was over he approached each one and introduced himself. He offered his services to the cause which seemed to please them all.

Between helping build the city’s perimeter wall, he found time to conduct classes on swordsmanship. It quickly became apparent, after outdueling the best sword fighter’s in the growing camp, that Barca was the most skilled. The people respected him because he was a hard worker and a modest man who could talk with anyone and put them at their ease.

One of Barca’s favorite pastimes was hunting. Food was always needed for the growing population, so he didn’t feel guilty about doing it. He carried his Elfin bow and was a skilled archer. He always brought meat back. The hunt gave him an opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside. For the next year he rotated his duties and grew more popular with the general community. The leaders became more comfortable asking him questions and listening to his counsel.

One day while out hunting he came across a wounded man. He was sorely wounded and exhausted from his efforts to elude the trolls who attacked him. As Barca tried to comfort the dying man he warned him, “Evil is back on the land!” he cried. “The evil wizard Jeezera is free! Somehow the trolls freed him!”

Barca’s blood went cold. It was the last thing in the world he expected to hear. He stayed with the man who died a few hours later, and buried him. On his way back to the city he thought about the situation facing them. He hoped the elders had some ideas on what to do.

An emergency meeting was held that evening. As he told the elders about his encounter a nervous buzz began among them. The eldest of the leaders was a learned man who was steeped in the history of Mid-Earth. It was he who addressed him, “Brother Barca, a new age is dawning. Whether evil or good prevails will be up to us. This was written in the Chronicles of Lar Hak, which predicted this time would come.”

“What shall we do master?” he respectively asked.

“The time has come for our new kingdom to have a king. We believe you should be that king!”

“I don’t know what to say,” he said.

“Say, yes,” the elder urged. “Your destiny is here.”

And so it was.

King Barca re-united the Elfish community with the First Humans, forging a powerful bond that turned the trolls back despite their massive numbers. In his greatest achievement, Barca was able to find Heroon Dar who stopped the evil Jeezera by killing him in a world-shaking duel that lit the heavens for a day!

As It Stands, the eternal battle between good and evil is fought in many worlds.

Never Count A Man Out – Unless Your Sure

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August 1885

The sun-scorched the three men as they walked through the Sonoran Desert southwest of Tucson. Their horses were dead and they survived for the first two weeks on their meat.

They were part of a group of men who were ambushed by hostile Indians that lived in the area. The three men had escaped, but ran their horses to death in doing so. Two of the men were from the east and had no survival experience. It was why they joined the group. The third man, Branch Older, was a professional hunter, who at 60 years-old, could still out drink, shoot, and chase whores better than any man…anywhere.

The easterners were brothers from Canton, Ohio. Against their father’s wishes they left the farm to go west in search of adventure. Alvin and George Sherman were husky farm boys and not afraid to work hard. When they joined the group they agreed to do the lowly chores of setting up and taking down camp everyday in return for experience.

They were a loose group of eight men who threw the fortunes together to survive the harsh country. Most had tried mining for silver with little success. Others hunted for pack trains passing through Arizona. The one thing they had in common was they were all getting up in age. The Sherman boys, at 21, and 22-years old, were the babies. Most of the rest were in their sixties. One was seventy-two-years old.

When the Indians hit their camp at sunrise everyone was still asleep but the guard, Pops Fargen. He had time to fire off a couple of shots from his Winchester rifle before being overwhelmed by attackers. Roused, the rest of the group grabbed their rifles and fought back. In the ensuring chaos Branch managed to get the Sherman brothers to jump onto their horses and the three rode off for their lives.

Three weeks later they were out of horsemeat and low on ammunition. Between them they had two rifles (both repeaters), one pistol, and three hunting knives. They each had a canteen with a little water that they found in a hidden spring two days ago.

Branch showed the brothers how to eat prickly pear cactus by using a knife to cut away the stickers. They grew among the giant Saguaro cactus that dotted the desert landscape. The heat stayed in the 100s during the day and dropped at night to freezing because of the altitude. The brutal weather took its toll on the men. Sunburned and blistered, they covered less distance every day.

At night they listened to el lobo, the Mexican gray wolf, howl for its mate. They sighted several cougars that didn’t bother with them. During the day they had to keep their eyes peeled for snakes. The most common were the Western Diamondbacks, with their dark diamond-shaped blotches along the center of their back.

The most venomous snake in the Sonoran desert was the Mojave Rattler, who was active at night. They hid near creosote bushes and bur sage, preferring open areas with grass. One night a Mojave rattler entered the men’s crude camp. While slithering over Branch’s leg he suddenly stirred and the snake was startled and bit him below the knee!

His howl of surprise and pain carried across the desert and a gray wolf joined in. The Sherman brothers panicked when Branch shouted “Snake! The son-of-a-bitch bit me! Quick! Cut it open and suck the venom out, he cried.

Alvin and George looked at each other dumbly. Both waiting for the other to move. George snapped out of it when Branch cursed again. He knelt down by Branch’s leg and cut open his trousers below the knee where Branch was pointing. He then took his knife, cut the wound open, and bent over and pressed his lips against it and sucked hard.

He instantly spit and tried again. After several attempts he noticed Branch was barely moving. He raised his head and tried to speak but only gibberish came out. The brothers hovered over him nervously, unsure of what to do next. Alvin threw a piece of wood onto the fire and they settled down by Branch and waited.

When morning came they couldn’t detect any life left in Branch. The two greenhorns dug a shallow grave and put Branch’s body in it after stripping off his clothes. They piled some rocks on top to discourage scavengers. George took his Winchester, and Alvin took his hunting knife.

They set out sadly. With no guide or experience, they didn’t expect to live much longer. But, as fate would have it, they came upon a road and a while later a stagecoach bound for Tucson stopped and gave them a ride on top with the luggage.

That night a hand thrust out from the desert floor knocking rocks aside. Then another. A head rose under the full moon and coughed. Minutes ticked by as Branch slowly crawled out from his crude burial ground. Despite all odds, he was alive but feeling like hell. He threw up a combination of bile and dirt. Shivering in the cold, he slowly stood up.

He had a fever and was delirious, but some lizard part of his brain made him take a step…then another. He’d survived the many life challenges he faced since he left home at ten-years-old. Six decades qualified him as a true survivor. He took another step and el lobo howled at the moon.

Two weeks passed and Branch was still alive. His face and hands were bloody from the stickers off the prickly pear cactus pads. He also ate kangaroo rats raw when he was lucky enough to catch one. He grimly kept walking and plotted what he was going to do when he found the brothers. They left him for dead. It was unforgivable.

He nearly ran out of strength when he saw a cabin. The old man who lived there was drawing water from a well when he saw Branch fall. He hurried over and dragged Branch inside the cabin. He tried to give him some water but Branch was unconscious. A week passed while the old man nursed him back to health.

During that time Branch told the old man his story and how his partners had deserted  him. The old man outfitted Branch and gave him a six-shot Colt Walker. When Branch protested it was too much, the old man insisted he take it with a box of ammunition.

“Where you’re going, your going to need one,” he said, spitting out a plug of well-chewed tobacco on the ground. “I’d give you my mule, but he’s all I got. Town is about five miles yonder. Shouldn’t take you too long to walk there.”

“Thank you. I’ll repay you some day.”

“Don’t worry about it. Just being neighborly.”

Is was noon when Branch walked into Tucson. The first place he looked for the brothers was the local saloon. They were playing poker at a table and didn’t notice Branch walk in. He came up to the table and pulled his revolver out.

“Remember me boys?” he asked.

As It Stands, as Western fans know, a man was hard to kill back in the Wild West.

Don’t Forget To Read The Fine Print

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1636 – south-western France

“Your first target will be released at sunrise on this open plain. There are rules to this game. One of the first, and foremost, is you have to count until 25 the moment you see your target, before going after him.”

“What other rules are there monsieur?” Demonte Thomas asked as he strung his bow.

You can’t go after your prey if he makes it through the forest and to the other side of the valley.”

“So many rules,” Chauncey Girard grumbled, “I hope there’s no rules against taking souvenirs, if you know what I mean.”

“No. You may dispatch of your prey as you see fit. After all, it’s one of the things you’re paying for. Just a reminder, you have to use bow and arrow, and one knife. Guns are forbidden.”

“We’re ready to play by the rules. After paying for transportation here from the Year 2018, the last thing we want is to have this hunt called off,” Avellino Lefevre said.

“One more thing,” the guide added, “Just a reminder. Our company cannot be held liable for whatever happens on these hunts. You all signed contracts to that effect. I hope you read them carefully.”

The three hunters assured their guide that they did.

“Why did you pick this time and place?” Demonte asked Girard who was testing the pull on his bow.

“Because of the novelty it presented,” he explained.

“Novelty?” Demonte asked.

“This is the year when French peasants who called themselves croquant’s (literally, “crunchers”) revolted against their masters. It’s an extremely bad time for the French nobility who found themselves scurrying around for their lives.”

“I don’t follow?” Avellino injected.

“Our guide mentioned an option for hunting nobility during his pitch for this place. I don’t know if you were listening closely, but this is a very rare hunting opportunity,” Girard said.

After the three men drew straws to see who would go first, Girard won the honor. The guide led them to a hunting lodge where they would spend the night.

The next morning.

As the sun struggled to break through the fog on the plain, Girard was taken to a spot where he was told to look for his prey who would be released in minutes. When he finally spotted a well-dressed brightly colored man whose clothes were torn and dirty, he raised the bow and starting counting to twenty-five.

Before he could send the arrow on its way however, the man disappeared into the thick fog. Irritated, Girard lowered his bow – it would have been a shot of about 50 yards – and cautiously headed towards where he last saw him.

The fog was slowly dissipating when he caught another glance of his prey. He was almost at the tree line. Girard knew it would be more difficult to get a good shot once in the forest, but welcomed the challenge. It was what he paid for, after all. He picked up his pace.

Girard was a seasoned hunter and tracker. His prey was a terrified nobleman who was use to a life of luxury.

When Girard inevitably caught up to him he was hiding behind a fallen tree. He’d dug his way in among the leaves and broken limbs and was out of breath and panting heavily.

“Pas!” he gasped in horror when he saw Girard.

It was still daylight when Girard returned carrying a bloody scalp and two ears in his leather hunting pouch.

His comrades toasted him at the lodge that night for a successful hunt.

The next morning.

Avellino paced back and forth eagerly looking for his prey as the sun climbed up into the sky. The plain was clear with a strong wind blowing through the wildflowers and tall grass.

He spotted movement out of the corner of his right eye. Seconds passed. Then he saw his prey. His colorful clothes made him an easy target. Avellino starting counting…one…two…three…” as his target ran full-out for the forest.

“Twenty-five!” he shouted while notching the arrow.

The man was almost to the tree line when he let the shaft go. It arched high in the sky and came down into the running man’s back! A couple of seconds went by before the man rose up from the ground, and resumed running!

Cursing, Avellino broke out into a full run towards the forest. If there was one thing that really irritated him, it was a sloppy kill. He prided himself on “clean” kills. He built a reputation on being a one-shot hunter.

It didn’t take long for him to find a blood trail. A drop here, and there, and soon he saw his prey. His was standing next to a tree, one arm leaning against it for support. He was panting heavily, trying to take a full breath of air when he saw Avellino.

There was no fear in his eyes. He stared at Avellino disapprovingly. The men’s eyes locked. Frozen in the moment.

The next morning.

Demonte had a hard time staying focused on the plain. He was wondering why Avellino didn’t come back from his hunt yesterday. Girard was on a two-day drunk and didn’t even miss Avellino at the lodge last night. The guide didn’t seem concerned.

Suddenly his prey popped up in the center of the plain. He made a perfect target with his bright gold chemise, broad white lace collar, and voluminous sleeves. His scarlet breeches contrasted sharply with the gold that now seemed to shine in the sun as he ran for the tree line.

Demonte took his time counting. He watched, fascinated with the bright colors and the pace the man was running at. He was loping along easily. Not running in a panic. His lizard/hunter brain took notice as he notched his arrow and let it fly.

At almost the same time, the man suddenly stopped running! He came to an abrupt halt and looked back at Demonte. The arrow flew over his head by a mere five yards, sinking safely into the grass. This quarry apparently knew something about archery and hunting.

Demonte ran towards the still standing figure. As he got closer the man turned and ran into the forest. Alarm bells were going off in Demonte’s head. He had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to be a one-sided hunt. He slowed down when he got to the tree line and cautiously stepped into the dense forest.

He decided to put the bow over his shoulder and pulled his hunting knife. As he passed a particularly large tree his quarry stepped out while swing a thick tree limb like a club! He caught Demonte on the side of his skull, bashing it in like a pumpkin!

The next day.

Girard woke up from his monumental drunk and packed his bag. It was time to meet up with the guide and to go home. When he arrived at the pre-arranged spot the guide was there waiting. His friends were nowhere to be seen.

“Where Is Avellino and Demonte?” he asked the guide.

“They won’t be leaving. Avellino no longer exists. He killed his own ancestor. The possibility of that happening was in the fine print that I asked if you all read. Whenever a hunter chooses to hunt in the country of their origin they take that chance.

“What about Demonte?” he asked meekly.

“He met up with another hunter from this time period. He was a nobleman known for his passion to hunt. This possibility was also mentioned in your contract. You hunters are always so eager to get on with things you don’t read the fine print. Or else, you do and don’t care.”

“I’m ready to go home now,” an unnerved Girard said.

As It Stands, it’s always that fine print that catches you.

Dog Boy’s Dream Come True

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You can also listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Manuel “Dog boy” Gonzales came into the world on January 15th, 1928, in Alabaster, Georgia.

His parents both took hard drugs, resulting in a rare condition for their child. He had Acquired hypertrichosis. In layman’s terms, he was very hairy everywhere.

He became a ward of the state when his parents were busted with a large amount of heroin in the car, discovered under Michael’s baby blanket in the back seat. He wasn’t in a booster seat. He was in a box, and the dope was his mattress.

Manuel, renamed Manny by his custodians, was adopted by a couple when he was three years-old. They didn’t mind that he looked like a little werewolf. Both had worked hard to retire in their early 60s, and wanted a child to dote on. But they found that it wasn’t easy to adopt a child at their age.

They never gave up trying. When they saw Manny sitting on the floor playing with a rag doll, their generous hearts melted. The fact that the staff didn’t think he’d ever be adopted, made them want him even more.

Bill and Lucy were unable to have their own children. Manny was a God-send to their way of thinking. His uniqueness touched them and they wanted to protect him from the world. They were thrilled when their application was approved.

As the years went by Bill and Lucy were faced with some harsh realities. No school wanted Manny in its student body. He was too much of a distraction. They took him to parks so he could play with other children, but were dismayed by their treatment of him. The other kids called him Dog boy, and mocked him by barking at him.

Lucy took it upon herself to teach him how to read and write. Bill took Manny on outdoor adventures like fishing and hiking. They did everything they could to make his life as normal as possible.

Still, it was hard on Manny who dreamed of traveling and seeing the world that he only experienced through books thus far. He was an intelligent young man, who at 18-years-old deeply loved his adopted parents, but thirsted for adventure.

One of the many things he wanted to find out was if there were other people like himself. It would help him feel less alone in the world by just knowing that.

The only thing that held him back was his parents age. They were both frail and in their eighties. He could not leave them alone. They meant too much to him. Instead, he made the best of his time with them, helping them get through the rigors of old age.

One night, Manny was awakened from a deep sleep by the sound of gunfire in the house! He sprang from the bed and ran out into the hall in time to see someone come out of his parent’s bedroom and dart into the living room.

For an instant he froze, deciding if he should go to his parent’s room or give chase to the invader. He went after the invader and managed to tackle him as he attempted to go out the wide open back door. Manny, who was strong for his small size, put a choke hold on the stranger, and squeezed with all of his strength!

Minutes sweated by as the life-and-death struggle continued. It finally came to an abrupt end and he released him, pushing his still-warm body away. His heart was still racing from the struggle when he got up and ran back to his parents room.

He saw Bill first. He was lying at the foot of the bed, still clutching half of his maple cane. A pool of blood was forming around his body as Manny looked on in horror. Tears were running down his hairy cheeks as he looked up at the bed. Lucy was propped up against the headboard of the bed staring blankly into space. Blood covered her torso.

He looked around the room and saw that Lucy’s jewelry box was lying on the floor. The closet door was open, and packages were strewn about like the invader was searching for something.

Manny was stunned. He simply didn’t know what to do. Hours passed as he sat on their bed and grieved. It was daylight before he stood up and went back out to the living room. The would-be thief was still lying by the open back door. A pillow case with his pilfered loot lay nearby. The gun flew out of his hand when Manny tackled him. It was resting on the wooden porch outside.

Two days later.

After hours of questioning the police decided Manny was within his rights to kill the intruder. The local newspaper had a field day with the double murder, and Manny killing the murderer. The photo that the newspaper ran wasn’t a very flattering shot of him, but sold newspapers like hotcakes.

He buried his parents in the same cemetery their parents were resting.

Manny could no longer stand living in the small community, and sold the house which his parents had bequeathed him in their will, and set out on the road. He bought a 1941 Ford, packed up his few belongings, and hit the road.

Months later, while he was in Florida, he came across his first Freak Show. As he paid admission the show’s owner came up to him.

“You wouldn’t be looking for a job would you sonny?” he asked, assuming Manny was just a boy because of his small stature.

“Well…” he stammered nervously, “I’m not sure.”

“What? You’re not sure? Then what are you doing here?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.

“Looking. I never been to no freak show,” he admitted.

“You paid your admission ticket…so enjoy. If you want to talk about getting a job afterwards, let me know.”

Manny went inside the tent and walked from attraction to attraction fascinated with what he saw. He wasn’t even aware at first that people were staring at him as much as the so-called freaks.

It was starting to get uncomfortable and he looked around for the exit when he noticed a group of people laughing at something. He warily made his way thought the group to see what they thought was so funny.

He got the biggest surprise of his life when he saw a bearded lady! She had a beautiful flowing beard that went down to her knees. She was telling bawdy jokes to the men gathered there. If she noticed Manny she didn’t acknowledge him and went on with her act until it was closing time.

He was ushered out of the tent with the rest of the crowd.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

The bearded lady and Manny fell in love and got married in a raucous ceremony that featured all of the freaks in the troop. Manny did his part and joined the show where he was featured as the “Dog Boy.”

The irony of his stage name never escaped him.

As It Stands, I believe there’s someone for everyone, no matter how they look.

The Arabian Theatre Murders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I did it to prevent…” he repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not a damn thing,” Cooper grinned. 

“Oh…well count me in!” Mueller said.

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