Joe and the Junkyard Dog

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If you’ve a mind, stay a moment and I’ll tell you a story about a lonely man and a vicious dog.

It’s the kind of story that fits this high desert community with its eccentric old-timers and desert rats who live on the outskirts of town; only visiting long enough to get supplies before going back to their self-made shacks near the Panamint Mountain Range. Or, in an area known as Wonder Valley.

Unless you’re a Marine (it’s home to the biggest Marine base in the country), you probably haven’t heard of the city of 29 Palms, California. It has a small civilian population consisting of military families. Then there’s the old families with histories going back a hundred years, when relatives moved there after WWI to take advantage of the high desert’s clean dry air to treat their lungs damaged by mustard gas in Europe.

Most of the businesses in town have connections to those old families. The family that owned the county’s only junkyard, the Mercer’s, had one of the oldest active businesses in the city. Family members belonged to organizations like the local Masons, and the Rotary Club. They were considered important members of the tight-knit little community.

Mercer Wrecking sponsored local events like “Pioneer Days,” and rodeos. They were a normal family with one exception. Percy Mercer who ran the business, had a mean son named Zack, who was a troublemaker that liked to bully people, and who taunted the family dog, a German Shepard named Max, mercilessly for years.

By anyone’s book, Zack was an asshole. When the families old dog died and they got a new puppy, Max, Zack went out of his way to make the dog miserable. Max had the run of the junkyard and was considered extra insurance against thieves. But after years of sustained cruelty heaped on him, Max became vicious and no one could approach him.

He was chained up during the day next to a wrecked hulk that was once a 1968 Chevy Camaro SS. It was gutted and the rusted frame provided little shade for Max when it was in the 100s – which was often in 29 Palms. With no kind human contact, Max lived to bite someone stupid enough to try jumping the gate at night when he was free to roam the junkyard’s perimeter.

The junkyard was a mile east of downtown 29 Palms. It sat like a blight in the middle of the desert with floodlights at night that attracted insects in massive numbers. Roadrunners ran by the perimeter, often crossing Highway 62 and getting run over by half asleep Marines at night, heading back to the base from a weekend pass. Coyotes avoided the junkyard. They were well aware of Max.

If you were to travel further east of the junkyard, on Highway 62, you’d eventually come upon Wonder Valley, home to hermits and desert rats. There was one small community building that served as an informal post office, firehouse, and meeting place. The residents paid for their crude services by holding constant fundraisers. Bar-b-ques and lots of cold beer held the odd community together.

One of the more eccentric residents was Joe Knudsen, a retired US Navy captain who served in Vietnam’s “Brown Water Forces” on the Mekong for two tours. He was wounded twice on his second tour. The most serious wound was a piece of shrapnel embedded in his forehead. Somehow he survived delicate brain surgery and was honorably discharged with a 100 per cent disability rating. It was 1975, and he ran away from human contact as soon as he got back to California. A friend told him about the high desert and its sparse population. It served his purpose. He bought a five-acre parcel and built a shack to live in.

The thing about Joe was he had PTSD, and his brain injury slowed down his reflexes and ability to think clearly. Staying focused became increasingly difficult since he sustained his injuries over 50 years ago. Sometime he would become confused and would wander outside his shack, rambling around the creosote bushes and dry rivers on his land. More than one local resident found him dehydrated and hungry in the middle of nowhere, and took him back to his shack. There were a few old veterans that tried to keep an eye on Joe, but he lived more than a mile from his nearest neighbor. It wasn’t easy. He was as lean as a rail and could walk for miles with little effect other than sweating. At 67-years old, Joe was in remarkable physical shape.

No one ever thought of calling the county, or anyone else, to take him away for his own safety. It was against the code of the desert. Live free. Die free. Not in some nursing home where a man couldn’t see the fantastic sunsets and sunrises the open desert offered daily.

Late one afternoon, Joe had a flashback and wandered out into the desert like a man in a trance. In his mind he was on a recon mission looking for a VC encampment. His feet carried him into the night and he walked along under the full moon searching for an invisible enemy.

When he saw four floodlights bathing a fenced perimeter he crouched down and inched forward. He heard a man drunkenly cursing something as he low-crawled on the desert floor, unmindful of the rough underbrush.

“Damn dog! I’m going to kill you!” someone shouted.

Joe stopped crawling for a moment. He was confused. His consciousness was torn between an alternate reality, and reality. To him, the angry shouts were in Vietnamese. He came to the chain link fence and easily scaled it, landing lightly on his feet inside.

Cautiously he trotted over to a row of piled up old heaps to get a better look. He listened closely, and heard the man’s angry voice again.

“Tried to bite me you son of a bitch!” Zack Mercer screamed. Joe saw him stumble between a row of piled up cars across from him. Zack had a gun in his hand, and a bottle of booze in the other. His arm and leg were bleeding. When someone ran out of the office to confront Zack he shot them! It was one of his cousins that was spending the night at his house.

Max sprang from the shadows and went after Zack who fired his remaining bullets at the charging dog! One of the bullets hit Max’s shoulder and he flipped over howling in pain. Zack was walking up to the wounded dog while clumsily trying to reload his revolver. Something took over Joe who found a rusted tie-rod on the ground and picked it up. He  ran up on Zack from behind and swung the rusted piece of metal at his head. There was a sickening thud and Zack sank to the ground…dead.

Joe moved past him and over to the wounded Max, who was panting in pain and laying on his side. He picked the big dog up like a baby, or wounded comrade, and carried him out of the yard and into the rapidly cooling desert towards his home.

Afterwards, no one in Wonder Valley asked Joe about where he got his new dog, a mild-mannered German Shepard he called “Buddy.” To be sure, Joe wasn’t entirely sure how he found Buddy, but it sure was a boost for one lonely old desert rat.

As It Stands, in a world of blacks and whites, there are gray areas we don’t fully understand and are left to marvel at.

To Awaken A Giant

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For over a year, the cult followers of Tand came from all corners of the planet to the rolling plains in the Algarve region of Portugal. They gathered there to witness “The Rising.” 

While they waited, they lived in crude outdoor camps in the nearby mountains. Some took up residence along the region’s coastline, living in limestone caves. Scattered about like the lost souls they were, the cult members trekked to a place in the open plain everyday, hoping to witness the return of the giant god Tand.

According to the legends, when the giant hand of Tand breaks through the planet’s crust a new age will dawn. The old religions will be doomed. Only those ready to serve Tand without question will be allowed to live in the new world order. Peace, through terror, will reign when the god giant once again walks the surface and establishes a new dynasty to rule over mankind.

In eons past the giant was defeated by the upcoming new religions in the world, and made to eternally sleep beneath the earth’s surface. The giant has slumbered beneath the dirt in Portugal’s plains for untold ages. If not for his loyal remaining supporters, his influence would not have passed along through the generations…each one more eager than the next to be the blessed ones to witness his return.

On June 10, 2031, cult followers from all over the world were spread around the plains. Some gathered into groups that chanted around-the-clock. Today was going to be the big day.

Not too far away.

Living quietly on the Alentejo plains, west of Algarve region, was a hermit. People of the region talked about the hermit in hushed tones. Some claimed he was immortal. Others said he was wizard. Still others thought he was a vampire. No one intentionally sought out the hermit in his crude thatched hut near a cluster of olive trees.

In fact, the hermit, Aloisio Rapoza, (a member of the religion that defeated the god giant) was more a sentinel than anything else; waiting to meet his destiny with icy calm. He existed as a final safeguard, a present to humanity should the giant rise from his coma in another age.

The powerful magic from his time was consolidated into Aloisio, who stayed in contact with the old gods using dimensional travel. He read ancient tomes with long-forgotten spells and stories, as he waiting for the predicted Rising.

Among the acolytes following the Tand cult, was a sorcerer named Zamos. It was he who announced the date of the giant gods coming. Now, he moved around the plains and outlying areas telling the devoted ones the good news, and to be ready.

On that fateful day Aloisio was contacted by the ancient ones who summoned him to their domain.

“Aloisio, your time has come. A necromancer named Zamos has breached the magic that makes the giant sleep,” one of the elders said with regret in his voice.

“I’m ready! What shall I do first?

“Kill Zamos. Then help us fight the giant, whose coming can’t be avoided.”

“Is it true that Zamos has the sacred Necronomicon?” Aloisio asked.

 “It is of no concern to you, our champion. Your power far exceeds the spells Zamos will summon up from that grimoire. Our ancestors made a pact with humans, back when they lived in caves, to protect them in return for their worship. The unspeakable has happened and now mankind’s fate rest on your shoulders Aloisio. Our honor is also at stake. Remember what you learned over centuries of reading. Power flows through your every cell. Go now…and use it!

When Aloisio opened his eyes he was back in his cottage sitting in a wooden chair. A candle flickered uncertainly on the small table in front of him. It was dark out and a full moon bathed the plains in a soft light. He took his staff and singing sword, Jevrik, and left the cottage. Following his instincts, he walked towards the east, towards a small mountain range in the dim distance.

He smelled them before they attacked. He drew Jevrik from its leather scabbard and was ready when four crazed cult followers of Tand attacked! They carried tree limbs for clubs, and surrounded him. Aloisio calmly accessed his opponents. No wizards. Just followers too stupid to know better than to attack him. Their screams, as he slit throats, and sliced off limbs, mingled with the sword’s savage song of death. It was over in moments. He knew this crude attack was only a prelude to what could be expected ahead. As he held Jervik aloft, a bolt of lightning shattered the silence, caroming off his sword, and searing the earth nearby.

The ground below him began to rumble.

“I’m coming for you Zamos!” he roared to the heavens.

The two adversaries met on the top of the small mountain range overlooking the part of the plain where Tand was expected to appear. Zamos, in his business suit, hat, and cloak, looked like a wealthy businessman. Aloisio wore a plain gray smock with a dark blue cape made from some rough material. The contrast was striking.

Zamos pointed a cane at Aloisio and swore a dark oath. At the same moment, Aloisio waved his walking stick and an invisible shield stopped a blue light heading for him. He locked eyes with Zamos and reached into his mind and soul. Then he twisted them, leaving a drooling idiot who stared at him blankly. Following his instructions, he cut off Zamos’ head.

The earth moved so violently the mountain he was on started to break up. He levitated and looked down on the plain and saw a crack appear! It was the god giant. He flew down and stood next to the opening gap in the earth. The hand of Tand thrust through the crust amidst a loud cracking sound that reverberated across the plains, thrilling the legions of waiting would-be servants.

Aloisio stood his ground and spoke ancient curses. Each one building upon the next, according to the books of magic he’d consumed all those years, and with the elders help by channeling their power through him.

The shaking stopped. The giant hand was frozen into stone. Only five fingers showed above the surface. The moon disappeared, and suddenly a rain storm broke out. It didn’t stop raining for days until all of Tand’s followers drown, or left the area. As for Aloisio, he went back to his cottage and took a well-deserved nap.

As It Stands, fantasies are among my favorite stories.

The Dark Mass and the Coming of Styrian

The Chronicles of Styrian – Book One

No one on Venus felt safe since the dark mass was discovered.

The warrior wizards who ruled the planet didn’t know how to stop the dark mass that was heading for their world. They watched it eat planets in another solar system and shuddered.

No amount of arcane knowledge was going to stop that hurdling mass – estimated to be traveling at 667,0000 miles per minute – from hitting Venus. It was the Venusians misfortune to be in the path of such a destructive elemental force.

Venus did have a chance to survive, albeit a thin one.

Living high in the Shoonic mountains that crisscrossed Venus’s north pole, was a hermit who had a son. His name was Styrian. The boy was touched by the gods and processed skills unknown to Venusians.

He was raised from infancy by the hermit Malgorn, who found him in the middle of a forest by a stream. Apparently abandoned. He took the babe to his home in the mountains and raised him like his own.

Malgorn was a book hoarder and his entire wooden cabin was cluttered with them. Every wall had multiple shelves of books. They were stacked up in the corners of the two- room house that Malgorn built when he was a young man.

Styrian listened to Malgorn read until he was old enough to read himself. Among the many useful things he learned was to recognize eatable tubers, a mainstay of their diet. The two forged a bond from the start.

Watching Styrian read a book one day, Malgorn wondered for the thousandth time where he came from? It sure wasn’t Venus. He was twice the size of the tallest Venusian. His heavily muscled pale white skin contrasted sharply with the dark green scales of Venusians.

Yet Styrian thought nothing of their physical differences because he was raised by Malgorn, who he considered his father. Even after he was told about his vague origin, Styrian claimed him as his father.

Malgorn always believed Styrian had a major purpose in his life. That he was meant for great things. That he could even be a god.

So when a message came from Malgorn’s brother, who lived in a major Venusian city, he felt it was destiny calling. He sent the messenger back with a message; “Take heart, salvation may come soon.” 

Malgorn went to Styrian and told him about the malicious dark mass that ate planets, and how it was coming their way.

Styrian was an adult now, and looked more like a god than ever before. His long blond hair fell down over his brawny shoulders like a cascade of gold. His pale green eyes blazed with hidden knowledge and strength.

“Then it is my time, father,” he said, after hearing about the threat.

“Will I ever see you again?” the aging Malgorn asked, with a slight tremble to his voice.

“You’ll always see me among the stars,” Styrian promised, and disappeared.

As Venusian wizards and scientists watched, the dark mass slowed down and turned away from Venus, speeding off in the opposite direction! They witnessed great solar storms and raw displays of energy crackling a million miles away.

Then it was over.

Malgorn looked to the heavens every night after the dark mass was gone. One night he noticed some stars were brighter than the rest. As he focused his old eyes on them they formed into an outline of Styrian holding a planet in his right hand!

In another universe and galaxy, Styrian found himself missing Malgorn. He stopped the dark mass, but destiny kept calling. His fate was to be a legend roving solar systems and other dimensions in search of adventure.

As It Stands, Book Two of the Chronicles of Styrian takes the reader to a world of ghosts and magic spells that seduce him into madness.

The Legend of the Last Tiger

He was a Shaman once…

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Harry and Greda were lost in the vast woods of Wildermare and their oxygen tanks were getting dangerously low.

They’d been on Hunter’s World for over 23 hours, and only had enough air left for less than an hour.

The Hermit who lived in the Wildermare woods, their intended prey, was once a respected shaman in Atland. His species were wiped out by Lord Awraths legions of lions. But they never could catch him.

Now, he was a target for every pair of human hunters who could afford Lord Awrath’s game fees. They all hoped to kill the last of his race.

Thus far, he fended off every attempt. Years ago, it use to be just one hunter stalking him. Now they were coming in pairs, since last season’s record high of 14 hunters killed.

The Hermit’s biggest advantage was this was his world, and it’s atmosphere was deadly to humans. It became a game of cat and mouse, as the hunters turned back towards the ship’s safety.

Greda saw the Hermit first. He burst out of the thick underbrush and landed on all four paws in front of Harry. Unlike the Hermits cousins, tigers on the planet earth, he could talk and reason as well as any intelligent species in the solar system.

“You lose!” he roared, and with one swipe of his huge paw shredded Harry into bloody ribbons. Gerda fired her Super Laser 3000 and missed. Her oxygen was depleted when she was sent to the same hell as Harry.

The Hermit didn’t know how long he would be able to elude his hunters. He suspected they’d come in threes after today. But it didn’t matter.

He had a reason to live. Life wasn’t boring, and he did enjoy chasing those clumsy human hunters. He had to be careful of their weapons, but they were slow.

The Hermit became a legend, his story told throughout the solar system, and in distant galaxies. It inspired many species to make brave last stands.

As It Stands, this is my twist on hunting, a so-called manly sport.

 

The Hermit Who Offered Mankind the Stars

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He’d been on the earth since its early tumultuous creation.

He didn’t have a name.

There was no need anymore. He escaped to earth after the fall of Siiileni, a million miles and a thousands years away.

He’d seen the rise and fall of a his great civilization destroyed by its hunger for power. Greed. And foremost, a massive division among its residents that resulted in terrible civil wars, and ultimately the destruction of his entire race.

The hermit. That’s what he decided to call himself after a few hundred years on the earth. He watched apes morph into men. He walked with the dinosaurs, and once rode a giant saber-toothed tiger for kicks.

He watched the humans gather into larger groups around the planet. Their mud huts gave way to stone edifices dedicated to their gods. He went among the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Egyptians, teaching their wise men astronomy.

He gave them the stars by explaining each glittering cluster and galaxy. Their history. Constellations. Things they could see with their eyes. How to interpret them. He always talked of how important peace was.

Then he went to a place of many trees, away from the humans, and he led the life of a hermit. Alone in his thoughts.

His hopes were high that mankind could live peacefully.

Bored, after a couple of decades of silence, other than the sound of animals, the wind, and the rain, he went back out among men into a place called Jerusalem. It was a bad time to be there. The locals had been invaded by another nation. Rome.

The people lived under the yoke of conquerors. As he stood in a narrow street he heard a group of men arguing loudly. A crowd was gathering just ahead of him, in a large plaza area. Anger was in the air. He drew nearer.

Two men were facing off shouting and waving their arms at each other. Suddenly one of them stopped and pointed at the Hermit. He was in his earthly guise. A middle-aged man with long scraggly hair, beard, and olive-hued complexion.

They were making accusations against him. A cacophony of voices called for his death while others pleaded for mercy. He was carried away by a mass of humanity hungry for his blood.

Soldiers drug him along in chains up a steep hill. Beaten along the way with whips. Stones striking his body with painful thuds.

The Hermit realized his time had finally come. The release. He was going into a new unknown. Maybe the loneliness would stop now, he thought as they nailed him to a cross.

As It Stands, no blasphemy intended. This tale is merely a quick glance and an alternative to the greatest story ever told.