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.

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.

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.

The Legend of the Ancestor

 

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A murder of crows descended upon the two decaying bodies in the desert. Waves of heat shimmered across the Oasis of Mara as the crows savaged the corpses. 

Nearby, sitting under a palm tree, Akuuki watched the crows get chased away by two large turkey buzzards who claimed the bodies as theirs under the blazing Mojave sun. The sight didn’t faze Akuuki.

He was a Chemehuevi, but had many Serrano, Cahuilla, and Mojave friends and relatives scattered throughout the high desert.

The two men being ripped apart by the vultures were renegades who broke into his hidden cache and stole his food. Despite the Spirit Stick he put in the entrance of the small cave, they violated it.

When he silently snuck up on them they were packing their belongings into backpacks. He saw the red piece of blanket that was wrapped around his stash get stuffed into one of the backpacks. It was enough.

Pulling back on the hard hickory bow he sent an arrow into the tallest man’s body! The other man turned and pulled his bone hunting knife from his leather belt and threw it at the same time Akuuki’s arrow pierced his heart. The knife flew harmlessly past Akuuki who was already walking up to his kill.

He pulled the arrow out and looked over at the other man. He had an arrow protruding from his back and was crawling towards a bow and quiver near one of the backpacks. Akuuki walked over to him and grabbed him by the scalp. In one swift motion he pulled his head back, revealing his throat, and slit it with a steel Spanish knife that he had taken from an enemy.

Now he was faced with a hard decision. He was counting on his cache to extend the search for his parents murderer. The unforgiving Mojave Desert didn’t allow for many setbacks. He still had a few days food left and was able to refill his canteens from the fresh springs there.

The murderer he sought had established a reputation as an evil shaman among the people. Almost everyone in the desert feared Atok the Cruel. It was rumored he could fly, or turn himself into a coyote if he wanted. His ability to shape shift was legendary among the Serrano who claimed the old man was immortal.

Akuuki did not fear Atok. He very much wanted to find him and to make him pay for brutally murdering his parents. He knew all the tales told at firesides about the shaman, but they didn’t scare him. His desire for revenge was all-consuming. After sending his parents off to the spirit world in proper fashion he set out after Atok.

From all the stories he heard Atok had a lair near the summit of the mountain called Avi-Kwame by the Mojave, and Yuman. His tribe, the Chemehuevi, called the place Agai. Stories of Atok’s cruelty terrified the children, and made adults uneasy at every telling.

It didn’t matter why he killed his parents. When neighbors suggested that Atok killed them because Akuuki was hunting in his sacred grounds, he angrily chased them away. He couldn’t live with himself unless he went after Atok, and at least, tried to kill him.

The thought that he might have been the reason for their violent death infuriated him.

It took him two days to reach Agai. Standing at the summit of the mountain he scanned upward but didn’t see anything that caught his attention. It occurred to him he would have to walk around the whole mountain to find where the shaman lived.

He was down to his last meal when he started searching the summit’s circumference. That night, after making a cold camp, he ate the last remaining slice of boiled plants and the hearts of mescal that were pounded into a slab by his mother months ago.

In a dream, a wild spotted cat came to him and whispered into his ear, “Of silver, Atok is in fear. It’s touch is enough to send him away from here.”

When he woke in the morning he looked at his knife. It was a fine Spanish blade and the handle was wrought from silver. His people were familiar with the white metal that almost made the white man as crazy as the yellow metal did a 100 years ago.

He felt a pang of hunger as he prepared himself for the day. An hour later he came upon a cave opening.

“Atok you coward! Come face me! I am Akuuki. I’ve come to kill you!” he shouted.

An arrow came from the darkness and struck him in his left shoulder! He staggered backward and broke the deeply embedded arrow off as he drew his knife. Atok was standing in the entrance with a bow and laughing at him!

“Fool! You dare search me out! For that, I will eat your eyeballs while you’re still breathing!” he roared, while running towards him.

Akuuki held his ground and took the charge! They thrashed about on the desert sand as Akuuki plunged his knife into Atok’s body without apparent effect. When they blade snapped off, he took the silver handle and shoved it into Atok’s mouth!

The effect was immediate; Atok’s body stiffened and began decaying on top of Akuuki! The gods were so pleased with the evil shaman’s death that the skies opened up and rained upon the Mojave Desert for the first time in a year.

When Akuuki, whose name translates to ancestor, died many years later his story became a legend told around campfires of the Chemehuevi.

As It Stands, this tale is a nod to Native Americans who’s rich verbal heritage includes classic stories of good versus evil.

‘See ya in the great beyond’

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Three men walked in single file under the light of a full moon in the Sahara Desert.

They were deserters from the French Legion. If their unit caught them they’d be summarily shot. Yet, they took the risk to get away from their notoriously cruel captain.

All had been severely punished for minor infractions numerous times. They were stationed at an oasis, Azerbu, located in the Libyan Desert, when they decided the risk of deserting outweighed their lives under their crazed superior.

All three men, Americans seeking adventure, found themselves involuntary Legionnaires in January of 1840.  The three devil-may-care Americans who sought adventure found only misery.

They were forced to work, and do military drills in the hot Sahara sun every day. Then they would have to stand guard duty at night. It pushed many men beyond their physical endurance, breaking them down physically, and even killing them.

Between the notoriously bad food, fiery days, numbing routines, and harsh treatment from the captain, the three men plotted to escape. It took them months to achieve their goal. Circumstances had to be just right.

All they knew about their surroundings was that they were in the Kufra District of Libya, about 150 miles to the northwest of Kufra. Having only been stationed in Azerbu since they enlisted, their knowledge of what lay ahead in the world’s hottest desert was minimal at best.

But they were all young, still in their 20s, and strong-willed enough to risk their lives for freedom.

The night they left all three were on guard duty. They each stuffed a backpack of essentials in them (including a change of civilian clothes), and brought two canteens of water. A coarse blanket was rolled up and tied onto the top of the backpack. They also took their rifles and extra ammunition.

The men had no trouble slipping past their sleepy comrades and getting to a grove of palm trees ten miles outside the fort. They knew it would be just hours before the sun came up and the search for them would get underway immediately.

After talking with local workers who were allowed to enter the fort during the day to do domestic duties, they had found out about the hiding place ten miles from the fort in a wadi that had some ancient caves concealed by local vegetation.

Their mission was to get to those caves and hide out during the day. The following night they planned to strike out for Kufra on foot.

When they reached their destination they selected a cave and crawled inside of it. The small opening gave way to a larger area where it was possible to stand up. Anyone coming in after them would be an easy target for the trio.

They slept throughout the day. Roscoe, the oldest of the three, was the first to wake up as the sun slipped out of the sky. He stood up, stretched, and gave his partners a kick to rouse them from their dreams.

“Easy Roscoe!” Henry complained.

“That time already,” Ben said, sitting up and peering out the entrance.

They each chewed on some beef jerky, while taking small sips of water to get it down. After packing up, they cautiously ventured outside. A hyena cried out at the full moon. A cheetah, hunched behind a thick cluster of vegetation, warily watched the men walk by.

Roscoe took out his compass and looked up at the clear skies. The stars glittered like diamonds as he sought familiar constellations.

“Northwest is this way boys. Let’s set a good pace. We have 140 miles to go.

The men silently walked in single file, lost in their thoughts.

Henry, from Dallas, Texas, was trying to compare how hot it was in the panhandle during the summer, compared to this desert. It was making him homesick.

Ben, who was from Boston, Massachusetts, thought he’d been in the hottest place on earth when he took a stagecoach to Dallas, Texas where he met up with Henry. He knew better now.

Both men responded to an ad that Roscoe ran in the newspapers, looking for individuals interested in adventure. When Roscoe rode down from Laredo to Dallas, to meet with the two men who responded to his ad, he wondered what kind of experience each would bring to the table.

Over beer in a Dallas saloon, the three men got to know each other. Both Texans immediately recognized that Ben was a greenhorn despite the western garb he was wearing.

After a few hours of steady drinking, Ben admitted that he was a librarian back home and was bored to death with his life. He always wanted to go on an adventure to the Wild West, or anywhere else in the world that offered excitement.

Both Texans were uneducated. Neither could read or write their name. Roscoe had to get a friend to write-up the adventure ad for him. But, they were both outdoorsmen familiar with weapons and horses.

Henry and Roscoe were raised on small ranches, but left early in their lives to become cowboys driving cattle along the “Beef Trail” to New Orleans. One of the things that motivated the two men was a restless urge to see more than cattle on dusty drives.

Though they never met, they were of one mind when it came to traveling. After that saloon meeting in Dallas the men agreed to go to Europe first. They pooled their funds and agreed to share everything from that time forward.

After a series of drunks in French bars, they were recruited into the French Foreign Legion by what they thought were drinking buddies. Once the two Texans made their mark, and Ben signed his name, they passed out.

When they woke in the morning they were in the French Foreign Legion.

As they trudged through the night towards Kufra, the men were trying to keep their spirits up. Ben estimated that if they walked 20 miles a night it would take about seven nights to reach Kufra.

Just before the sun started its journey up in the sky they came across a small wadi. The pool of water was brackish and they didn’t try to drink it. They tied their blankets together with pieces of rope to make a tent for shade.

The trio kept constant guard by rotating the duty through the day. Sleeping came easy as they were exhausted. Ben figured they had enough supplies left to last a week.

Two days later a monster sandstorm separated the trio.

When Henry woke he had his blanket wrapped around his head and his body was half buried in sand. As he dug himself out, coughing all the while, he wondered what happened to the others.

It was daylight, and the fierce sun beat down on his head as he looked around for his hat and Charleville musket. It didn’t take long for him realize it was a fool’s errand. It was like looking for needles in a sea of sand.

He gave up and thought about searching for his partners. His odds of finding them were as long as finding his hat or musket. He didn’t even know what direction to turn. Confused and dispirited, he found a pile of stones to sit on. He leaned back and took the canteen out of it’s pouch on his belt, and sipped from it.

It was almost empty. He checked the other one. It was still full. He still had food, but didn’t feel like eating. He was discouraged and exhausted when night fell like a cool blanket on the desert floor.

As he sat there, head nodding in an effort to sleep, a voice pierced his thoughts.

“There you are!” Roscoe said.

“Looks like you made it!” Ben congratulated him.

His joy at seeing his two partners didn’t hide the fact that they were hovering a couple of feet above the sand. One part of his brain said that was impossible, and the other part said…”Oh, no!

Reading his mind they both smiled reassuringly.

“Listen Henry. There’s a caravan coming this way today. There’s an English woman on it who will help you get home.

But what about you fellas?”

“As you’ve guessed by now, we didn’t make it partner. But the good news is we’re going on an adventure better than anything we ever dreamed about. See ya in the great beyond.”

As It Stands, you can’t keep an adventuresome soul down for long.

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 Amitee, who raised her from a baby, 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 Amitee’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, Amitee took her to Paris. She had a brother who lived there and he took them in. With his help, and the money Amitee 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.

He saw something none of the jealous young men saw – she was a natural artist. Her eye for detail impressed Elle, but it was the confident ease with which she rendered her work that really made him realize she was going to be something special.

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 done 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.

Of course, the client sang Alouette’s praise to everyone who would listen. It wasn’t long before clients came in asking for her at the master’s studio. Elle decided to charge her rent for the use of the studio, and materials.

Alouette didn’t make any connection with how happy her first client’s life became. Nor how her second client insisted she paint him frowning (he said it was an aristocratic pose), and when the portrait was done his normally mild nature turned into a combative one.

This went on for over a year.

But people began to talk, and compare results among themselves after having Alouette paint their portrait. They talked about people being so sad afterward, they committed suicide. Talk about the devil signing a pact with her swirled through the streets of Paris, sparking talk of witchcraft.

People were concerned it was the devil’s work. It was a very superstitious time in Europe, where hundreds of women were burned at the stake, hung, or drowned in trials designed to see if they were a witch.

Alouette quit painting portraits the moment she heard the rumors. When she started refusing 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! You mean I’m really a witch?” she sobbed.

“Yes. calm down my dear. We have work to do. 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.

It only took her two days to finish the painting. It was massive. The largest in the studio. It was full of the people of Paris. All with big smiles as they went about their routines. Elles hid the final product…which was titled, “Gay Paree in the Springtime.”

Alouette thanked Elle, and left Paris 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 in the western world.

The Gentle Embrace of Death

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

GangstersLouie Marozzi wasn’t part of anyone’s gang.

It’s true that Al Capone, Dion O’Banion, and Bugs Malone all asked him, at one time or the other, to drive trucks for them. But he turned them all down. He wanted to stay independent…no matter the cost.

Not only was Louie an exceptional driver, he was a giant of a man. At six-feet, seven-inches, and 340 pounds, he was a specimen to behold. People thought Big Louie, as many called him, wasn’t too bright.

He seldom spoke and when he did he stumbled over words, going from Italian to American in the same sentence. His appearance, with a dark unibrow and jutting forehead, probably furthered the narrative about his low intelligence.

He was slow to anger. He didn’t drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes. The few friends he had were homeless, and lived on the streets of Chicago. His daily challenge was to stay out of the way of warring gangs.

Louie saw plenty of guys get gunned down in a hail of bullets from a passing car. The gangsters spent as much time killing each other as they did innocent victims. Dead men turned up all the time.

It was that environment that gave Louie his chance to kill people without getting caught. He wasn’t a violent killer, and never used a gun. He preferred to put his victims to sleep in his firm, yet strangely gentle, chokehold.

Unlike some psychopaths, Louie knew it was wrong to kill people. He justified his hobby by killing what he judged were bad men. He tried to keep the murders down to just a couple a week.

With the rate of weekly murders in the streets of Chicago in 1931, two more a week were easily lost in the shifting statistics.

In Louie’s mind he was doing his criminal victims a favor. They probably would have been violently killed by someone else. He was nice enough to make their passing painless and not traumatic.

Even in that violent time and city, there were whispered rumors of a serial strangler stalking the streets. The police, aware of the rumors – and the circumstances involving a string of choking victims – kept their eyes open for a suspect.

One day his friend Leo emerged from the streets, and hunted him down.

“I need your help Louie,” the shriveled old man pleaded.

“Sure Leo.

“A couple of thugs in Bugs Moran’s gang took Angelo this morning! They beat him up and dragged him into one of those big black cars and took off!”

“Why they do that?” Louie asked.

I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s about a briefcase he found in an alley, and they were looking for it.

“You sure Bug’s boy’s did it?”

“Yeah…I happen to know a couple of them. Ran a few errands for ’em.

“I’ll see what I can do come amico.”

As Louie walked back to where his truck was parked, he noticed a couple of thugs loitering around it. The first thing that went through his mind was Angelo convinced them he had the briefcase, in order to stay alive.

The normally calm and composed Louie was slowly melting away, as he watched them from the window of a shop he went inside of. He didn’t like being threatened. He looked at both men closely, memorizing their faces.

There was a rear exit in the shop and Louie took it out to the alley. He knew where the Moran mobsters hung out. There was one location in particular, a house, that he suspected they’d taken Angelo too.

It was a couple of miles away, but that didn’t bother him. He liked a good brisk walk. It helped calm him down. He didn’t want to shed blood. He just wanted to gently put them to sleep in his powerful arms.

He was right about the house. It was on a big lot and fenced in, but Louie had no trouble getting over the fence. As he got closer he heard a muffled scream. Louie sat down and waited for hours until the moon climbed to the top of the sky, before overpowering the sleeping guard on the front porch.

He went through the front door, surprisingly quiet for a man of his size. He took care of the two thugs sleeping in the living room. He went to the cellar door and opened it. He softly descended the stairs.

Another guard was asleep on a chair. Louie wished him sweet dreams and sent him to eternity. Angelo was a bloody pulp. His hands were tied behind him with twine, and he was unconscious.

Louie approached his body on the floor. He was laying sideways. He checked for a pulse and was surprised to find a weak one. He probably wasn’t going to make it from the looks of his smashed skull.

Louie sent him gently into the night.

No one knew what happened at the Bugs Moran gang’s house, because it was engulfed in flames set by Louie that night.

Locals said Moran’s gang never bothered Louie again. Some say it was because Al Capone and his thugs took a lot of Bug’s time just trying to survive.

Other’s say that Louie Marozzi was the most feared and famous killer in Chicago… that the public never heard about.

As It Stands, this tale is a chapter out of the urban lore from Chicago’s “gangster days.”