The Waiting Room

Somewhere between the unknown and reality there’s a waiting room for souls. Their expressionless faces reflect the rigors of their lives.

The souls have different expectations about their fate. Beliefs of a lifetime wait to be validated. Hopes of being reacquainted with loved ones go unspoken in the silence. 

When the doors of justice open they go inside. A panel of life forms from throughout the solar system waits to judge them according to universal laws. 

Good and evil is balanced upon scales based upon what they did in life. There’s no lawyers to plead their case – just their deeds.

Portrait of a Witch

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Alouette Arsenault was cursed with the ability to paint anything.

That’s the way she looked at her talent. Her work was so realistic it actually looked like photographs of people and landscapes.

It was the people part where the curse came in.

Alouette was a simple country girl born in the south of France in 1565.

When her mother was burned at the stake for being a witch, she was taken by her aunt Aimitee, who raised her from an infant in a hut located in the middle of the Aquitaine forest.

It was her ability to depict things around her in charcoal at an early age that caught Aimitee’s attention. She watched Alouette draw imaginary friends and the world around her with pride. She was a born artist who deserved to work in more lasting mediums.
When Alouette turned fourteen, Aimitee took her to Paris. She had a brother who lived there, and he took them in. With his help, and the money Aimitee made sewing people’s clothes, she was sent to a nearby art studio.

As the only female there, she suffered constant indignities, but the master, Ferdinand Elle, let her stay after interviewing her aunt. When shown examples of her work he was impressed. He saw something that none of the jealous young male artists in his studio had going for them; Alouette was a natural artist with an exceptional eye for detail. It was that eye for detail that most impressed Elle. He was astounded at the confident ease with which she quickly rendered her work. His instinct told him she was something special. Otherworldly even.

Using oil on canvas, Alouette painted her first portrait at fifteen years-old. It was of a minor city official. Elle allowed her to have the commission, and to paint her customer in the studio. After studying the client’s face, she saw a hint of a shy smile. When she was finished the client was overjoyed with her work. From that point forward he was a transformed man. Where once he spent all of his time worrying about things, he was now impossibly happy. His life transformed.
Of course, the client sang Alouette’s praise to everyone who would listen. It wasn’t long before new clients came in asking for her at the master’s studio. It came as no surprise to Elle who decided to charge her rent for the use of the studio, and materials.

Alouette didn’t make the connection with how happy her first client’s life became. How could she? She never saw him again. Nor was she aware of her second clients transformation who insisted she paint him frowning (he said it was an aristocratic pose). When his portrait was complete his normally mild nature turned into a combative one.

This went on for over a year. She painted clients whose lives changed for better or worse afterwards. Leading a hermit-like existence she was content to stay in her little bubble and paint. Elle watched proudly as each work became a masterpiece.

But people began to talk, and compare results among themselves after Alouette painted their portraits. Some noted that there lives had improved and they were happier. But others talked about people being so sad after getting their portrait painted, they committed suicide. Rumors spread claiming that she worked for the devil and had signed an evil pact with the dark lord. Her growing infamy swirled through the streets of Paris, fueled by fears that she was practicing witchcraft on them.

People became more and more concerned it was the devil’s work. Worse, it was a very superstitious time in Europe, where hundreds of women were being burned at the stake, hung, or drowned in trials designed to see if they were a witch. The mania descended upon Paris like a plague with groups of witch-hunters prowling the streets.
Alouette quit painting portraits the moment she heard the rumors. When she began refusing to paint anymore clients Elle took her aside and asked, “What’s happening little one?” even though he’d also heard the rumors.

“I cannot paint any longer master Elle,” she said.

“I knew you were a witch a long time ago. That’s because I’m a warlock!”

“Witch!” she cried out in shock. “You mean, I’m really a witch?” she sobbed.

“Yes. calm down my dear. We have work to do. I’ve been meaning to tell you this. Trust me. It will be your greatest work, I assure you. Now listen to me. One of the many reasons you’re such a talented artist is because you have a great memory.
“We must put this memory to the test. I will walk with you through town and you must pay attention to everyone you see, especially city officials. Fix their faces in your wonderful  memory as we stroll through the streets.”

It only took her three days to finish the painting. It was massive. The largest in the studio. It was full of all the people of Paris. They all had big smiles as they went about their daily routines. Elles hid the final product, which was titled, “Gay Parie in the Springtime,” in a secret vault below the studio. As long as the masterpiece remained intact, peace and tranquility would be assured for all Parisians. The witch hunts came to a halt afterward.

The mania that had infected the city was gone, allowing Alouette to once again move freely about in society. But her desire to paint was no longer there. She became wary of her powerful ability to affect people’s lives and eventually decided to quit painting altogether.

Her gratitude to Elle was endless. The old warlock had taught her many things. By revealing her power he opened up her inner eye, unlocking mysteries from her unconscious mind. When the time came to move on Alouette wept and kissed her mentor.

She left Paris for the countryside to live with her aunt Aimitee, disappearing into the dusty footnotes of history.

As It Stands, I’ve often wondered why there weren’t more women artists during the Renaissance period in the western world.

(1st published May 2017, As It Stands)

The Man In Room 313

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Emmett Westerly had seen his share of strange people as a hotel clerk at The Whitmore Towers for 25-years. None stranger however, than the man in room 313.

He was living there before Emmett was hired in 1936. His neighbors never saw him during the day. Whatever chance encounters occurred were brief and at night. His name was Christopher Ward Cummings III. He was a tall thin man who wore a black hat and a three-piece suit. The brim of the hat was always tilted forward, partly obscuring his smoldering dark eyes. It made him look like a stereotypical spy in the movies. He seldom spoke. In all of Emmett’s years at the Whitmore, he only heard him speak a handful of times. His voice was memorable. Buttery, but threatening at the same time.

When not on duty, Emmett had a small room behind the main desk. It was all he needed being a single man. He ate all of his meals at the hotel’s first floor restaurant which was open 24-hours a day. He went to the movies once a week, which satisfied his sense of adventure, along with his hobby of reading Hollywood monster magazines. His love life consisted of an occasional tryst with a married woman in room 422.

Christopher Ward Cummings III never lost sight of his mission in life.

He’d been hunting vampires for 30-years and lived like one in order to track them down. He went out into the streets of the city every night, searching for bloodsuckers stalking neighborhoods; armed with a wooden stake, a gun with silver bullets, and a long knife he used to cut off heads. He inherited the job. As did his father before him. The Secret Society he belonged to had a long history of killing vampires. They started out in Europe, but soon worked their way to the New World as reports of vampires there surfaced. The migration began long before Christopher was born.

He, like his peers in the Knight’s of St. George, knew that some vampires were just too powerful and it could be a suicide mission to attack them. But he did anyway. It was in his DNA. Their war was thousands of years old, going back to when mankind still lived in animal hide tents and ate raw meat. Christopher descended from a long line of royalty in Spain that was said to have driven the vampires from the country.

A typical night adventure.

Christopher has been lurking for hours behind a car parked directly across from a nightclub in the seediest section of town. His patience pays off when he spots a man and a woman come out of the club. She can barely walk. The man is supporting her and heading for a nearby alley. He waits until they disappear around the corner of the old brick building before running up to the alley entrance. Crouching like a big cat he slowly enters the alley with gun in hand. The thirsty vampire has the woman leaning back into the wall and has peeled her blouse off to get at her throat. She is unconscious and unaware of her looming fate. Taking careful aim at the bloodsucker, Christopher fires two rounds into its body!

The creature whirls in agony as the silver bullets weaken it enough for him to approach with his knife and cut off its head! The woman slides down into a heap at the base of the wall. Still alive, although unconscious. He pulls out a burlap bag he brought with him and puts the vampire’s head in it…careful to avoid the fangs of the still snapping jaw. Much like a snake’s head when severed.

Before the night ends he buries the head in a deep hole, after setting it on fire.

Two nights later.

Emmett was reading a monster magazine when a stranger wrapped in a black cloak with hood approached the check-in counter and asked what room Christopher Ward Cummings III was in? Annoyed at the interruption Emmett brushed him off, “We don’t give out that kind of information at The Whitmore,” and started to go back to his magazine. The stranger reached out with a pale skeletal hand and tore the magazine violently away from him!

“What room did you say he was in?” he growled.

“I didn’t…take it easy pal. It’s against the rules for me to tell you that. I just work here. I can take a message of you’d like?” he offered weakly.

The pale face under the hood grimaced angrily, and his eyes burned like red coals in the sunken sockets that stared at him. That mesmerized him. That ordered him to tell what room Christopher was in. For hours afterward he sat staring into space until someone shook him.

“Hey Emmett! Are you okay buddy?” the night watchman asked, concern in his voice. “I was making my rounds and saw you sitting here like a zombie, and had to check on you. Long shift, eh?”

“Yeah…that’s it Larry. Thanks for checking anyway.

As the watchman headed for the elevator Emmett tried to clear his head. He vaguely remembered what happened. Like a bad dream. The next night was busy because it was a Friday night, and people were coming and going constantly well into the late hours. To his surprise he saw Christopher come out of the elevator and walk over to him. His curiosity climbed the wall as he waited to hear what he wanted.

“I had an unwanted visitor last night,” he said with a dark edge to his voice. “My question for you is, did you give out my room number?

Horrified at the accusation, Emmett’s mouth turned to cotton as he tried to frame a reply. “I couldn’t help it,” he confessed. Christopher’s expression softened. “Describe the stranger who approached you.” 

After Emmett was done he nervously waited for Christopher’s reaction to his description.

“Yes. I thought so. The clumsy bastard tried to ambush me in my own room last night. You should know that he was a vampire.

“Was…?

“Oh yes. I have his head in this bag. It turned out all right this time, but we must come up with a plan to avoid it happening again. Think about it will you? I have business to finish now.

“Yes…yes, sir. I’ll think about it all right.”

He watched Christopher walk out into the night with his bag. Afterwards, he pulled out his stack of monster magazines from under the counter, and unceremoniously dumped them into a metal trash can.

As It Stands, when fantasy and reality collide, it’s time for a new hobby.

The Great Goblin Invasion

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In an age of magic, long before mankind learned to walk upright and come out of trees, there was a fairy dynasty, The House of Nim, that ruled in an age of peace and posterity.

It was an era where warrior wizards roamed the land and fought evil where they found it. Goblins gathered in packs and hunted unwary travelers, often just killing them for the sheer joy of it. Forests were homes for ogres who fought one another when there was no one else to attack. The clannish brutes leaders were smart enough to keep their subjects concealed in the vast forests, and not to go looking for enemies.

One of the largest cities at the time, Shambhala, was in the Kingdom of Rathan, ruled by King Auth. It was a trading hub and a crossroad for other communities. The city was surrounded by a great wall and had a castle in the center where the king lived with his large family.

North of Shambhala, were the famously fertile fields of the fairy territory ruled by the House of Nim. They stretched out as far as the eye could see. Fairy’s had been cultivating it since the dawn of time. Most of the inhabitants were farmers who seldom used their wings. The royal family, and select members of the court, not only used their wings, but they also practiced ancient magic to protect their kingdom. They considered themselves warrior-scholars who stood up to enemies, but never sought them out.

Towards the end of the third millennium, before the great asteroid struck and nearly destroyed the earth, ragtag bands of thousands of roaming goblins became organized under a dark sorcerer named Zargot, whose mother was a rogue fairy and father a renown goblin warlord. The combination made him stand out among his peers, and most feared to even be around him. His temper was legendary, but his ability to organize achieved something never attempted before; a united goblin attack against a city, Shambhala. As far back as memory served, the goblins were hit-and-run road bandits with bad attitudes. The times were changing under Zargot.

In the Kingdom of Rathan, the royal family consisted of three sons, and three daughters. All were related to the fairy community of Nim, but did not have wings. Their grand wizards studied under the mages of Nim.

Among the royal children, there was one who was a rebel. His name was Tarn, and he always seemed to do the opposite of his siblings, a passive group. His aggressive personality worried his parents early on, but as he grew older he demonstrated that he could serve in the kingdom’s best interests. He was the only child that wanted to travel so his parents indulged him and made him an ambassador to the House of Nim. He insisted on traveling there by himself, secure in his ability to defend against any attacker.

He traveled light with only a forest green cape, over his plain brown tunic. With a short sword, and a water flask in his broad belt, he set on down the road. Tarn’s knowledge of fruits and plants made it easy for him to live off the land as he walked towards Shambhala. He meditated as he walked, a trick he learned from his master at an early age. The road he traveled twisted like a snake through fields of grain and flowers spread out across the massive plain. As the sun shrugged and slowly went down, Tarn heard something that instantly put him on alert. The sound of grunts coming from nearby were headed towards him! He got off the well-beaten path and slipped into a field of grain. Raising his hands over his head he muttered an incantation of disguise and stood still, becoming one with the tall stalks that surrounded him. Just in time. The goblin army had sent out scouts and they were everywhere. Some passed within inches of him, unwary of his presence.

Tarn listened to their grunts and made out enough to know an army was nearby and moving toward his city! He fought against his natural impatience until he was sure it was okay to suspend the spell, then turned around and ran back home as fast as possible in the darkness. When he approached the gates of Shambhala he called out to the guards, “Open up immediately!”

The commander of the guard doubled the sentries and made sure they were all heavily armed with axes, spears, and arrows. With the goblin watch set up, Tarn went to King Auth and asked for his advise.

“What shall we do, sire?

“We must see how large this army is. Our defenses are set and we are ready, my son. I’m so glad you’re all right, and were able to come back and warn us,” the old king said with pride in his eyes.

In the followings days, thousands of goblins surrounded the city walls. Their numbers increased daily as the defenders looked on. Finally one day the sorcerer Zargot appeared in front of the main gate. He called out to King Auth to surrender and for his subjects to become his vassals. The king, surrounded by his children and wife on the main palisade, drew his sword and waved it high.

“Leave here, with your ridiculous demands, and go back where you came from!” he warned the sorcerer.

Zargot spread his arms beneath his black cloak and flew up to the top of the palisade and hovered in front of the royal family.

“This is your last chance. Resist me, and I’ll share your flesh with my minions!” he roared.

Tarn raised his bow and notched an arrow as Zargot flew back to his goblin army. When he let go of the arrow Zargot turned and caught it in mid-air. He cast a spell and the arrow flew from his hand with a life of its own, back towards the front gate, striking one of the king’s son in his throat! The queens wail of grief was drowned out by the masses of goblins screaming war cries as they ran toward the front gate and the two side gates at once.

The rear wall faced a forest populated with ogres. The stretch between the forest and the rear wall was the distance that a good archer could shoot an arrow. It was a neutral area avoided by travelers, and contained large quicksand pits. Even the animals avoided the area.

The goblins threw themselves at the walls, raising hundreds of ladders and scurrying up them like giant worker ants lusting for blood. The carnage went on until the sun set and darkness descended like a cloak over the countless bodies. The goblins breached the wall twice during the battle, but were turned back both times by counter attacks led by Tarn.

That night a council was held by the royal family and the kingdom’s three wizards. They knew they couldn’t continue to have so many casualties. Over half of the defenders were dead, including two of the king’s sons and one daughter who fought fiercely on the palisades with the warriors. It was decided that Tarn would leave immediately for Nim to get help.

He had to sneak out by the back wall. The other three were too heavily populated with the goblins army. It meant he would have to travel through the forest and circle around towards the Kingdom of Nim. He slipped out a secret door and stopped long enough to cast a simple spell that illuminated the areas where there was quicksand. Passing by them he entered the forest and set a steady pace while listening and looking for ogres.

He heard them before he saw them. The ogres were arguing about something around a campfire. Twice the size of goblins, ogres were powerful but slow. Their fierce appearance was enough to intimidate smaller foes. There was also one other thing about the ogres, they had an excellent sense of smell that was highly attuned to fairy folk and goblins. The same time he saw then, they smelled him and came to their feet. He backed up to a tree and cast a spell of invisibility just before they lumbered past him. Drawing his sword, and relaxing the spell, he came up behind one of them just as he turned around and plunged the blade into his massive chest! His death cry brought the other two over before he had time to disappear. One of them threw an ax at him and barely missed. Tarn charged the ogre before he recovered from the throw and drove his sword into his heart. The last ogre grabbed Tarn by the shoulders and threw him like a doll at a tree! Blocking the pain, he got up and ran for his life. The ogre soon gave up chasing him.

By the time Tarn got out of the forest it was daylight. His whole body ached, but he remained focused on his mission and headed towards the fields of grain that led to the Kingdom of Nim.

The mages of Nim were waiting for Tarn when he arrived.

“We know what Zargot has done. Know then, that he was once one of us many eons ago. But his dark side got the better of him and we forced him into exile on the Island of Narta. However, he grew strong enough in the passing of time to break the spell bonds holding him there. What is happening now is his revenge. We hope you and your people will forgive us for what’s happened. We go now, my fellow mages and I, to confront Zargot and stop this invasion of your city.

“Can I go with you?”

“No. The high magic that’s going to be involved would kill you outright. Instead, lead our warriors to confront and destroy the goblin army that threatens your great city.”

And, so it was.

The great goblin army was destroyed, and the evil sorcerer Zargot was defeated by the mages of Nim. But the story doesn’t end there. Tarn goes on to more adventures and becomes a legend in his time.

As It Stands, I just had to get my fantasy on here. Hope you enjoyed it.

Take My Cell Phone…Please!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ladies of the Lake

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Not far from Lake Minnetonka, in Minnesota, there’s a smaller lake east of it that few (if any) tourists have ever seen. The locals say it’s haunted by three women, and avoid going there. If the lake ever had a name, no one knows what it is now.

North of the lake, a 30-mile trek away, is White Earth Lake. A young man born on the Indian reservation that surrounded it, desperately wanted to see the world. He was part of the White Earth Ojibwe Band, and expected to live his whole life there. But the urge to leave coursed threw his veins, and his blood boiled for adventure.

His native name was Niimi (He is dancing). His white name was Roger. In school, everyone had to answer to their white names. Afterwards, the moment they left school, they went by their “real” names.

Niimi was a reader. It was why he was so smart. He absorbed knowledge like a sponge and was able to retain what he learned. He loved mysteries and studied stories that were passed down by the Ojibwe elders. Tales from the ancient days when the People lived in harmony with Mother Earth.

One day he had an epiphany. He’d tell his family and friends that he wanted to go on a vision quest. It would give him the reason he needed to leave the reservation, and it could provide direction for his future. He was ready to seek his guardian spirit, who he could call on for protection and guidance. It had been many years since someone in the tribe set out on a sacred vision quest, and the elders were pleased that someone so well-schooled in their culture was undertaking it. Although they felt he should be a little older, they agreed to hold the ceremony.

When the rising sun-kissed White Earth Lake’s surface the next morning Niimi set out on his quest…for adventure. He was dressed in leather britches and jacket. He wore a pair of beaded moccasins with good luck tokens sewn into them.

Two days, and 30-miles later, Niimi came upon the nameless lake. When the locals told him it was haunted, he felt a thrill of excitement. This was a challenge he decided, and made a crude camp by the lake.

That night he had weird dreams. He was talking with a woman who was promising him crazy things like immortality, and the ability to fly, or to stay underwater for as long as he liked without having to breathe air. When he awoke in the morning his clothes were wet. Not damp. Soaking wet. He scrambled to his feet and jumped around shaking himself dry under the newly arrived sun.

Instead of being worried about why he was wet, Niimi recalled the stories the locals told him. He didn’t remember anything about water witches though. Just that there were three women who guarded the nameless lake. Unlike most men in his tribe, he didn’t fear the unknown.

The next night he tried to stay awake, but succumbed to sleep by midnight. His dreams were chaotic and violent. He was flying over the tree tops looking down at a herd of buffalo being chased by hunters with spears and arrows. He could hear the cries of the hunters as they brought a big bull down. The swirling dust made his eyes gritty. The thrill of the chase increased his heartbeat…and then he woke up in his campsite next to the lake. His eyes burned as he looked around.

Afterwards, he walked along the lake’s shore wondering what his dreams meant. As exciting as they were, he longed to know if the lake was really haunted. Thus far, he hadn’t seen any ghosts. Yet, the locals insisted they were there. He’d gone five days without food, hoping it would give him a vision. His body was so weakened he quit walking and sat down by the lake, staring out at its shimmering surface with glassy eyes.

That night as he lay barely conscious by the smoldering fire pit in his camp, three woman came to him. They wore diaphanous dresses that accentuated their lithe bodies as they walked across the lake, and on land to his camp.

“How much longer before this human dies from lack of food and our nightly bloodletting?” one of the women asked the other two.

“It’s hard to say sister. This human has a strong spirit.” another one commented.

In spite of his condition, Niimi heard their voices and struggled to focus his eyes as they peered down at him. His first thought was they were beautiful. They all had full red lips and pale faces that were expressionless. All three had pale blue eyes that watched him struggle to sit up.

None of them wanted him to die…and least not until someone else came along. Human blood was the ultimate intoxicant for them. They seldom got visitors because people feared the place. When they did, they tried their best to make the experience last as long as possible before draining the victim’s final lifeblood. It had been decades since the last victim stumbled into their domain. Niimi’s blood was a special treat after that long drought.

In spite of his weakened condition he recalled a tale one of the elders told him about supernatural beings. That if he could drink their blood he would be strong enough to banish them to hell where they belonged. Summoning up the last of his strength he spoke, “Ladies of the Lake, I am Niimi your loyal servant. If you could each give me a little of your blood, I could continue serving you longer instead of dying right now.”

The three were startled by the request and argued among themselves for a while before coming to a decision. When they did, each one used a fingernail to slash their own wrists.

“Come, drink then human,” one offered as she held her bloody wrist out.

Without hesitation Niimi sucked on the proffered wrist. When she stepped aside the second offered hers, and by the time he was sucking on the third’s wrist he felt a hot powerful surge course through his veins! Night turned to-day. He could understand what the animals in the nearby forest were saying.

Power incarnate made his bronze face glow. The sisters, sensing something had gone wrong, hurdled together and watched his transformation with their pale blue eyes. When he finally turned his attention on them they could see the mistake they made. In their eagerness they ignored the law of blood. Their mixed blood took him to another level of awareness. And power over them.

He slowly stretched. Never taking his eyes off the three women. They turned in fear, as if to go back in the lake, when he clapped his hands together and sent them straight to hell!

As It Stands, evil is meant to be destroyed by heroes in all cultures.

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.