Nightmares

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He woke up screaming!

Ever since Jake Jones returned from combat duty in Afghanistan he was plagued by nightmares.

They were so real that he woke screaming every morning, bathed in sweat, with bruises and even scratches on his body.

The Army psychiatrists said he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and put him in counseling, and fed him pills that were supposed to help.

While he was patient at the White City VA, in White City Oregon, the doctors observed his bruises, cuts and scratches on him every morning. The consensus was they were self-inflicted, despite Jake’s denials.

He refused to speak during group counseling so they had to resort to one-on-one counseling. His doctor experimented with every anti-psychotic medication available but none of them helped.

All the doctor knew about Jake was that he was wounded twice in 2009. He was among 3000 U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division that moved into the provinces of Logar and Wardak to push out the Taliban.

A group of Afghan Federal Guards fought alongside the Americans. They were the first wave of an expected surge of reinforcements originally ordered by President Bush and increased by President Obama.

One day Jake and his squad were exploring caves looking for enemy insurgents. They came upon a group of old men and some young Taliban fighters and a deadly firestorm erupted.

When it was over half of Jake’s squad was dead or wounded. Jake suffered a bullet wound through his left shoulder. All of their enemies lay dead except one old man. He had been hit several times and was sitting with his back to the wall.

When Jake approached him blood was running out of the corner of his mouth and he was muttering something. Scott, the team translator came over and listened to the old man’s fading words. When they stopped, Scott turned to Jake and said “This guy has cursed us 1000 times over. Too bad that I don’t believe in that crap.”

Jake was medevaced to safety and returned to combat duty three months later. All of his remaining team members were gone, dead, or returned to the United States.

Three days after returning to his new unit his platoon was ambushed. Jake was the only one wounded. This time in the chest, just missing his heart. That’s when the really bad nightmares began.

While recuperating in the hospital the first one happened. One moment he was sipping water through a straw and sitting up in a hospital bed, and the next he was in an unfamiliar place that looked a lot like the province of Wardak.

Three old men approached him with long canes. He stood there, powerless to move while they beat him and chanted ancient curses. He could feel every blow. When he couldn’t stand the pain anymore, he screamed…and woke up with a nosebleed.

A nurse ran into the room and comforted him as she washed the blood off his face and beard. In her report she noted that the patient had somehow inflicted injury upon himself while sleeping.

The same thing happened for three nights in a row before he was transformed to a mental ward and strapped onto a bed for his own safety. When the nurse checked on him the next morning he had a black eye and more bruises on his chest.

The stunned staff immediately launched an investigation to see who had attacked him. The night nurse said no one had entered the ward, and the security guards verified her story.

The nightmares continued, but the beatings stopped. He was released back into the general population and assigned a new doctor two weeks later. Jake was a pale shadow of himself having lost fifty pounds since his second wound.

The nightmares morphed from beatings to ghosts of dead Afghani children, women, and old men surrounding him with sad eyes. They were the same old men in the cave that he helped kill.

He continued to wake up screaming until one day he decided that he’d had enough. He tied his sheets together, firmly securing one end to the ceiling fan and wrapping the other around his neck. Then he kicked the chair away from beneath his feet.

As It Stands, this tale was an exercise in mixing a real mental problem with the supernatural.

Blood Feud

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Hunyad Castle, Hunedoara, Romania – 1453

They’re going to let me go today.

After a decade in this dungeon, my captors are granting me a pardon.

Apparently because they think I’m no longer a threat to them. Whatever. I’m watching the sunrise sneak through a small vent in the tower’s ceiling. It’s bathing me in its glow.

I heard one of the guards yesterday say they were letting me go because they thought I was crazy, and would never be able to contest for the crown. My royal blood was the only thing that kept them from murdering me.

This castle tower once held Vlad III of the Wallachian empire, called by some Dracula. He stayed here for seven years. I’ve seen traces of his writings scratched onto the rock walls. His broody presence stills stalks this hell hole.

I’ve held long conversations with Vlad the Impaler during the many nights I slept on the cold stone floor. He comes to me in my dreams and sometimes during the day, whispering strange things into my ear.

Who am I, you may ask? Just a bastard son of the noble Hunyadi family who restored this ancient castle. My mother died giving me life, and my noble father, King Albert of Hungry never officially acknowledged me. My name is John.

I’m a wart in the family line. No one wants to kill me, but I’m treated like a stray dog. And today they’re letting the dog go.

I know what my enemies see when they look at me; a frail old man with a long beard and balding head. They think I have no life left in me, and that I will wander off and die somewhere alone, unknown to future generations.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, and I know it’s a good thing they underestimated me so much. It led to my freedom. It’s gave me a chance to wage a blood feud against my own family.

Wait! Here they come now!

One day later.

I’m not use to walking so much. My weary body is being forced to move by sheer will power. I know the cave isn’t far from here. Vlad told me where it was in a dream.

The cave was my key to immortality, and revenge.

I was crawling by the time I reached the entrance to the cave. It was partly concealed by bushes. If I would have been stronger, I would have stood up and walked in. Instead, I had to crawl in like a worm into the darkness.

I have no idea how long I crawled. Resting against a wall, I summoned my remaining strength. I listened. I wasn’t afraid. Vlad assured me the final pain would be quick, then I would enter the new royalty of bloodsuckers for eternity.

When I heard the bats, I sat still and waited for them. Vlad was right. The pain of death was sharp. But when I woke I felt like a new man. A strange woman sat next to me, allowing the cut on her arm to drain its crimson content into my open mouth.

Her hot blood surged through my veins, and I felt a power like nothing a human could even imagine. I could see clearly in the darkness. Everything was crystal clear. When I stood up I was dizzy for a moment, but it passed.

It was exhilarating flying through the night. When I reached the castle it was still dark and the inhabitants, including the guards, were sleeping. Now, a thing of the night, I glided through the corridors until I reached my uncle and his wife’s bedroom.

The guard outside their door slept with a sword across his lap. I couldn’t resist starting my feast with him. It was over quickly.  I took his sword, and cut his head off afterwards.

When I went inside I could clearly see their bed. I went up to the side my uncle was on and fed. Not too much blood, however. I wanted him to suffer. It was just the beginning. I had plans for my damned family.

Plans that would carry through future generations, and that would be referred to in the Family Bible as John’s Curse.

As It Stands, family feuds have long been the fodder of fiction writers.

The Secret Life of Preston Smith

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“But I lived in a world where you could never want what you wanted out in the open.” –Tayari Jones

At a very early age, Preston Smith (an only child), learned not to tell his parents the truth about everything.

It was pointedly apparent that he not talk about the animals he killed, and how much fun he had when doing it.

When he did, he got into lots of trouble.

That set the stage for the other Preston who was allowed to think or do whatever he wanted – no rules – no lectures. Total freedom. The older he got, the other Preston demanded more time.

Preston was always a good student and got great grades. College came easy for him. He lived on campus, but had no interest in fraternities. Not that he wasn’t social. He had a girlfriend.

She, Laura Lee, even fell in love with him. The other Preston didn’t like her however.

Still, they dated until he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. To celebrate this accomplishment, the other Preston took over and viciously murdered her a week after graduation.

It took Preston two years before he had his own successful practice. His reputation for helping people grew every year. Former patient referrals and word-of-mouth kept him very busy.

At first, both Prestons settled into a comfortable routine working like a well-oiled machine. They delved into patients inner fears like miners in search of gold. It was refreshing to Preston to know he had an excellent reputation.

No one ever linked the bad things that happened to some of the patients to Preston. Why should anyone have reason to be suspicious if one of the nuts killed themselves? If, on a rare occasion police did come by seeking information on a deceased client, Preston always cooperated.

One thing troubled Preston; the other Preston had established complete control when nightfall fell four years into the practice. During the day it was still a joint arrangement. This slow dawning of facts (unequal hours) told him the other Preston was making a move for complete control 24-hours a day.

He knew he was going to die soon.

His father and mother always wanted him to tell the truth. He reflected on his 34-years and what goals he accomplished. Preston wanted to be like normal people, even after he slaughtered his parents, two aunts, and a friend in a night of horror.

It was about freedom. Wasn’t it?

As It Stands, I was shocked at the carnage that one man, Stephen Paddock, created in Las Vegas recently. It made me wonder how many other people are leading “secret lives.”

Go Ahead! Call In The Clowns!

evil-clownAt first, the clowns started showing up at street corners advertising a circus that was coming to town.

After two days, and no circus, people began to wonder what was going on?

On the third day, the clowns were gone from the street corners, but began showing up in alleys and people’s driveways. They never said anything. They just stood there with their exaggerated evil clown smiles.

The town’s mayor and city council held meetings trying to determine how to deal with the silent clowns that were scaring their children. No apparent laws were being broken. They always left at curfew.

How could the townspeople in Knotty Grove, New Hampshire, know that it was the annual Gathering of Crazy Clowns? They came from nearby states. All with criminal records. All with garishly painted clown faces. All, a little crazy.

The tradition began years ago when John Wayne Gacy, serial killer and rapist, invited a few criminal clowns he knew to hunt for victims as a group in a small town in Maine. It didn’t end with his death.

There were ten crazy clowns this year. They advertised on the Dark Web, inviting like-minded murderers to join them every September 15th at a different location. This year it was Knotty Grove’s turn.

The fact that it was such a small, isolated little town without its own police force, made it an ideal target.

Ho! Ho! The Clown, was this year’s host. He picked the hunting grounds with care. It was an honor to select victims. The sense of approval from his fellow serial killers made him feel justified in his bloody dealings.

Just before they broke up and went in search of victims, the Evil Santa Clown said what they were all thinking. “I can’t wait to see the surprise on their faces.”

The mayor, a computer geek, discovered what the clowns were up to and called for a townhall meeting.

“Well, there you have it,” the mayor said, while pointing at the clowns on his computer monitor.

“These clowns are serial killers that like to stalk in groups. They especially like finding small communities like ours.”  

“I don’t think they’re going to like what they find in Knotty Grove,” chuckled the town’s only gas station owner.

Here’s the thing. These clowns won’t be missed by anyone,” the mayor said.

The gathering broke out into cheers, showing their fangs in glee when he gave them the green light to go hunting.

As It Stands, the hunter and the prey story has many variations. This one is mine.

 

It All Started When The Pot called The Kettle Black

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A spirited discussion was taking place in the kitchen.

A spate between the spoons and the forks was threatening to make the butter knives leave the drawer in search of a more peaceful place.

Everyone seemed on edge.

Then a pot called a kettle black. Well, that did it! The two banged into each other and sent the plates and coffee cups flying off the counter. This moment had been building up since they moved in a month ago.

The copper kettle started causing trouble the first night there. In no uncertain terms the kettle informed the pots, pans, dishes, silverware, glasses, and cups – that it ruled the kitchen.

The human used the kettle five times more than he did pots or pans. A bachelor, he didn’t like to cook. But he sure enjoyed his tea.

This self-appointed status largely went unchallenged for weeks, with only occasional grumbling coming from the pots in the lower cupboard. The pans were pretty low-key and stayed out of the brewing feud.

Brooding one day, one of the pots decided to break all the rules. Again. That damn kettle was insufferable. When the human got home the pot intended to have a few words with him. It was early morning.

The human stumbled into the kitchen, stretched, and yawned. Then the pot asked him to open the cupboard door. Without even giving it a second thought, the human opened the door and stared dumbly inside.

When the police arrived after the 911 call, a neighbor reported hearing screams inside. They entered the house and found a man  dead on the kitchen floor. He had cuts and bruises all over his body. It looked like the kitchen imploded.

The kitchen drawers and cupboards were emptied of their contents. Curiously, nothing was broken. Everything was gathered up and put in a box after the police were finished examining every piece.

A year later the police department held a sale of unclaimed items with the proceeds going to a local charity. One of the first things to sell was a big box of kitchenware. Everything from pots and pans to a copper kettle.

The happy couple were just starting out, and they needed everything for their new home. That night voices came from the kitchen.

“You two ignore each other,” a pair of coffee mugs warned the pot and the kettle, “or we’re going to end up in that damn box again.”

As It Stands, I’m dedicating this story to Alfred Hitchcock, a master at throwing a wicked twist into a story.