The Gentle Embrace of Death

Louie 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.”

The Mail Order Bride

Mail order brides were a common occurrence in the Old West, so when Hank told his friend Logan he’d sent for one, they celebrated in the Bucket Of Blood saloon until they were kicked out by the bartender who was closing up.

Logan had married a lady from Boston last year, when she replied to his ad for a bride. Seeing his friend so happy, Hank decided it was time to seek martial bliss himself. It was pretty lonely at the miner’s camp in Big Gulch, Nevada.

He’d saved up money that he earned hunting for meat and furs for the miners, and felt confident that he could support his new wife.

Unlike Logan, who worked hard everyday at the gold mine owned by the Loman Brothers, Hank was a free spirit who didn’t want to be tethered to anyone, or business.

Gold was first discovered in the vicinity of Carlin in Eureka County, Nevada, in the 1870s, and by the time Logan and Hank arrived from Ohio, it was a thriving business in Jackass Junction.

Hank was a good hunter, and the fur that he cured was easily sold to miners. He also made arrangements with other small mining towns like Jackass Junction, to bring them meat in exchange for coffee, tobacco and liquor.

Once he decided to get married he built a log cabin away from the boom town, and filled it with crude wooden furniture he made himself. There was a bed, kitchen table, four chairs, and several wooden shelves on the wall near a wood-fired stove he bought in a 1887 Sears catalogue.

There were still very few women in the area, and when one arrived in town it was a big occasion for the men, who gathered on the street to greet them. As soon as word got out a newcomer was there to meet her husband, most of the men lost interest and went about their business.

Hank purchased a buggy and two roan horses to pull it. When the day came around for his new bride’s arrival, he joined Logan and the other men in town, lingering around at the saloon.

“What’s her name again pard?” Logan asked.

“Annabel Lee,” Hank cheerfully replied.

There conversation was abruptly terminated when someone shouted, “Coach is here! The stagecoach is here!” The men poured out of the saloon like lemmings to get a look at the new arrivals.

It was a bumper crop of brides, with five women inside. Turned out that only two were brides, and the other three were “soiled doves,” to the absolute delight of the women-starved miners.

Annabel Lee stood out from the other sun-tanned women, because she was so pale. She wore a black dress, with a matching hat and veil, and carried an umbrella. Hank couldn’t help notice some men staring at her oddly.

The stagecoach driver was pulling down Annabel Lee’s luggage when Hank approached her timidly.

“Might you be Annabel Lee?

“You are Hank then. You’re much more handsome than in the photo you sent me.” she said matter-of-factly.

Hank blushed under his recently trimmed beard.

“Thankee mamI’ll take care of your luggage.

Hank helped her up to the buggy seat and went after her luggage. Left alone for a moment, she raised her veil slightly…and hissed, as she surveyed the townspeople.

Hank returned after loading her luggage, and hopped nimbly up onto the buggy seat beside her. He took the reins and gently tugged them. The roan’s took off in a steady pace as they headed to the cabin.

After a few cursory questions the conversation died down. Hank had never felt more awkward in all of his life. His only experience was with a prostitute in the nearby boom town of  Hell’s Half-Acre. Once.

When they got to the cabin he helped her down and unhitched the horses. He led them over to a water trough as she stood silently in front of the cabin. After securing both horses near his stallion, he came back and opened the front door.

“C’mon in,” he said with as big a smile as he could muster.

She didn’t comment on any of the furnishings while Hank started a fire in the woodstove.

“Built this place m’sef,” he offered, by way of conversation.

She took off her hat and veil, and appeared paler than before.

“Very talented,” she softly replied. “What else can you do?” she asked coyly.

“Well…I’m a pretty fair hunter, and a decent shot with a Colt .45. Been riding horses since I was five…

She studied his face as he spoke. He seemed like a nice guy. She knew he would provide good cover for her being here.

He was her complete opposite. She was a traveler who had seen many cities in her long lifetime. He was a country boy out of his league right now. She spoke 22 languages. It was apparent to her that he hadn’t even mastered one, with his accent.

She was tired of the east coast, and when she heard about mail order brides it encouraged her to go on another adventure. So, she answered Hanks letters for a proper period of time, and then made arrangements to come out west and get married.

It had been over 30 years since Edgar Allen Poe immortalized her. She, in turn, encouraged him to pursue his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was the last man she lived with for a while.

The intervening years were spent single, roaming the streets of eastern cities in search of new blood supplies. Unlike novice vampires, Annabel Lee had evolved over the centuries to the thing she was now. The sun was no longer fatal to her. Just something to be avoided.

“I just can’t get over what a handsome man you are Hank! Please forgive me. I know I’m being forward and we aren’t married yet.”

Awwww shucks mam. I set it up with the preacher so we could get hitched tomorrow.

“How thoughtful,” she said. “Come here Hank…”

The next morning while they were riding to town, Hank felt an itch on the side of his neck. When he scratched it, he got a little blood on his fingernails. Not overly concerned, his thoughts quickly returned to getting married.

Most of the miners in town were working when they got there. The preacher was waiting in the saloon for them.

“Sorry mam!” the preacher said, “We don’t have us a church yet. This will have to do.”

Annabel Lee smiled sweetly and declared, “Oh, that’s all right reverend. I’m ready to marry this fine man anywhere.”

After the five-minute ceremony the bartender bought the bride and groom a drink. He set two beers down on the bar for them. Hank tossed his beer down without hesitation.

Annabel Lee looked at hers, and then at her new husband, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t drink any kind of alcohol. Not that I mind if you do though. It doesn’t set well with me,” she explained.

Months later, a dozen miners grew so weak they could no longer walk. The local doctor, between bouts with John Barleycorn, had no idea what was wrong with the men. He told anyone who asked that they were sicker than anything he’d ever seen. He knew it wasn’t consumption.

Hank and Logan were having a beer at the saloon one afternoon when Logan asked, “What do you think about what’s happened to those men? I ain’t never seen anything like it. The doc says the same.”

“Not sure pard.

As Hank rode his horse back to the cabin he was troubled. He knew Annabel Lee was sneaking out at night when she thought he was asleep in the wee hours. He decided that he had to find out what was going on that night.

The moon was at its fullest when Annabel Lee stealthily got out of bed. He marveled at how quiet she could be, then rolled off the bed, and pulled his trousers on and his boots. He slipped on a shirt, and leather jacket.

After a slight pause he strapped his gun belt on. One ould never be sure in this wild country.

Hank followed her trail on foot. It wasn’t easy. She barely disturbed the ground she walked on. As a hunter, he learned long ago on how to track prey. As he followed her a growing uneasiness told him this wasn’t normal.

Women didn’t just get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks without telling their husbands. There was something about her that made him uneasy at times. He just couldn’t figure out what it was.

He was lucky to catch a flash of her skirt as it disappeared inside the tent set aside for the twelve sick men. Hank got down on all fours and crawled over to the tent. A candle flickered weakly on a table next to the woman who was asleep in a rocking chair.

A pitcher of water and partial loaf of bread were on the small table. Annabel Lee confidently moved from man-to-man, sucking on their sleeping necks! Hank who was peeking from underneath the tent flap, recoiled back in sheer horror when he saw what she was doing!

The thought of lying next to that monster who was sucking the poor men’s lifeblood away was too much. He was a simple man who knew very little about supernatural things. He heard a few scary yarns growing up in the Ohio Valley.

But nothing like this.

Hank crawled away from the tent until he was near the livery stable. He got up and made a mad dash for it. Inside, he found the preacher snoring loudly and still clasping a bottle of rot gut rye in one hand.

Hank plucked the bottle from his chubby fist and shook him hard, “Wake up! I need you!” he whispered. It took a pail of water and some slapping, but Hank got him to finally wake up.

Sputtering indignantly, the preacher demanded to know why he was so rudely awakened?

“Hush! Keep it down and listen to me. What kind of creature sucks folks blood?

The preacher’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Why do you ask?

“That gal I hitched up with, is sucking men’s blood. That’s why those miners are so sick!”

This time the preacher crossed himself, “Are you sure?”

“Saw it with my own eyes a little bit ago,” Hank assured him.

“She must be a vampire!” he said, and crossed himself again for good measure.

“What in Billy hell is that?

“A demon of the night. They can only be killed by a wooden stake through their black heart, or cutting their head off!” the Preacher explained.

“You mean bullets don’t kill them?”

“I’m afraid not Hank. They also have supernatural strength, so don’t get in no wrestling match with her.”

Hank left the now very sober preacher and went back outside. He got back down to the ground and crawled over to the tent. She was still there, stroking the hair of the sleeping woman.

Careful not to make a noise, he headed back to the cabin as fast as he could. It seemed like he no sooner got there when the front door creaked and she slipped in inside beside him on the bed.

It took all the will power he had to lie still, and wait. It wasn’t long before he could tell from her regular breathing that she was asleep. The predawn quiet seemed sinister as Hank slipped out of the bed.

Without dressing, still in his long johns, Hank went outside to the woodpile and went through a stack of sticks that were trimmed off from his last load of firewood. He picked one that was sturdy and narrow on one end.

With a nearby hatchet he sharpened it. Then he got a hammer from the tools in his small shed. The hunter in Hank kicked in as he went back inside.

Before he chickened out he put the stake over her heart and thrust down! He hit the stake again with the hammer! It was over in a moment. Her body turned to ashes. There wasn’t even a skeleton left.

Horrified and amazed, Hank got dressed and rode into town. He went straight for the saloon and waited until it opened. The bartender shook his head when he opened up the saloon.

“Kinda early Hank.”

Nearly a bottle later, Hank was still standing but reeling awkwardly.

When Logan came in the saloon later that afternoon, after working at the mine, he found Hank three-sheets-to-the-wind. Logan patted his old friend on the shoulder and asked him about married life.

Hank started to say something…but started coughing so hard, he fell down to the ground gasping for air. He finally got air enough to moan, “Never again!”

As It Stands, whose to say a few bloodsuckers didn’t go west back in the day?

In The Dead Of Night

“Your got here just in time.

“Find yourself a comfortable place near the bonfire, because I’m ready to tell a story.”

“My name is Duke Masterson, and I’m the oldest resident in Weston… still able to talk that is. There’s old Charlie Dent, but since he lost his dentures no one can understand him. Truth be told, his memory isn’t as good as mine. 

“Any of you folks from Missouri?

Only one arm went up. The rest of the group was tourists from all over the country. One young couple was busy passing a bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth while keeping their eyes on Duke.

“Just a little history first. One of the things this town has always been proud of was our rich heritage built by beer and whiskey. There was a time, long ago, Weston was a main port for riverboats, but things changed.

I’m proud to tell you we have been drinking quality beer since 1842, when John Georgian built one of the first lager beer breweries in this country. Old John was a German immigrant who brought us a fine old world beer they we still enjoy today.

“Any questions?”

“Yeah! What time does that brewery open tomorrow?” a young man with a baseball cap that said “Booze Hound” asked. A couple of other tourists laughed. Duke waited until the laughter died down.

“I’m back to bragging again about liquor. We’re also home to McCormick Distilling Company, founded in 1856. For you history buffs, it’s the oldest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi River that’s still in operation.

How about this; the Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped not far from here at today’s town hall. Remember reading about William Buffalo Bill Cody? He was a resident here for years.”

“Hey Duke! One of the men sitting on a lawn chair said, “Enough history. We’re here to listen to your story!”

Applause broke out as the group looked at the old man eagerly. Duke managed to muster up a smile. They were right. They wanted to be scared tonight. They wanted ghost tales that would tickle their fears.

He was happy to accommodate them.

“Back in 1840, before we had beer and whiskey industries, most folks were farmers. Hemp was a crop that grew well and exporting rope helped keep the town going. I think I mentioned that riverboats used to come here.

“One day a strange-looking fella got off one of those riverboats and caused quit a stir. He had tattoos all over his body. His bald head was painted blue. He had three negro servants and was wearing silk robes. You can imagine what a sight they made.

“The tattooed man hired someone to haul their baggage over to the old Frontier Hotel where he rented two rooms. Well, it didn’t take long for rumors to circulate about him being a witch doctor and his negroes being zombies.

When a series of strange things started happening around town, people started questioning the tattooed man. All of the cows stopped producing milk and the chickens stopped laying eggs. The owner of the hardware store went nuts and ran down the street frothing at the mouth!

The city fathers got together and held an emergency meeting. They decided that the tattooed man and his negroes were bad medicine. Tempers flared and things sorta got out of hand because they marched over to the hotel and pulled the tattooed man and the negroes out of their rooms.

The next thing you know, they hung them from all from a tree just outside town. Before they slipped the noose over the tattooed man’s neck he cursed them all…and their descendants!

Just before they liberated him from this world, he warned them that their town would become his at night from that moment forward.”

Duke looked at the group to gauge their reactions. They were quiet and subdued.

A wolf howled nearby. The bonfire sputtered and a sudden rush of wind put it out. As the group watched in horror Duke transformed before their bulging eyes. Gone was the old man. A tall tattooed man with a bald head painted blue drew a knife from the sash at his waist.

He roared in rage, and then plunged into the terrified group!

As It Stands, storytelling time in Weston is a hell of an experience!

The Shoeshine Boy’s Street Story

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

“Shine? I’ll make ya shoes look fine!

The man passed 10-year old Leroy like he wasn’t even there. It was getting dark and soon there would be no chance of making any money. Reluctantly, Leroy folded up his little stand and seat.

He had a long way to walk back to Harlem. He couldn’t afford any kind of transportation. Not even the subway. Every penny he made went to keep his family from starving. His father was dead. His mother who had a terrible case of gout, could barely move on some days.

His three sisters, all older than him, did what they could to help provide funds for a roof over their head, and food. Being black, and poor, almost guaranteed they would never leave the slums of Harlem.

Because of bullies, and territorial gangsters, Leroy was forced to always keep moving where he did business. Some days he walked miles, relocating three or four times out of necessity’s sake.

Leroy learned his way around over the course of several years. He got to know which neighborhoods to avoid, and where it was safe to set up shop. Still, there was always new neighborhoods to explore in his search for money.

It was a new neighborhood where he hit his best payday ever!

All day long, men in dark clothes passed the Funeral Home near where he set up his stand. Many of them wanted a shoeshine. All were quiet and extremely generous, leaving him tips.

He lost track of time until the last shine, when darkness crept up on him like a thief. There were only a couple of street lamps working. Most were dark. Leroy pulled his threadbare coat around his chest tighter and shivered. A cold wind struck up as he starting walking down the street.

He was looking over his shoulder and didn’t see the man until he bumped into him! He immediately dropped his stand and covered up his head, fully expecting to be hit for his impropriety.

When nothing happened, he looked up and saw a tall pale man smiling at him.

“Sorry sir, I….”

“Don’t worry about it boy. We all get in a hurry sometimes, and make mistakes. Could I talk you into shining my shoes right now?

Despite Leroy’s misgivings about the strange-looking man wearing an 18th century coat, he set up his stand under one light that worked.

Fear tiptoed through his head as he dutifully buffed the man’s antique shoes. He knew shoes. He was sure he never saw anything like these ones.

When he was done, Leroy shyly asked if the stranger approved of his job?

The man stroked one end of his long black mustache and nodded agreeably. “Yes, well done boy. Here’s your reward.” He handed Leroy a gold coin. His eyes widened in surprise. The only gold coin he’d ever seen was in a pawn shop.

“Thank you,” he stammered.

“I’ll make a deal with you. Meet me once a month on this same day after dark, and I will continue to pay you with a gold coin. You must never tell anyone about our arrangement however.”

“Yes…” he assured him, “I won’t tell anyone.”

Then the stranger was gone.

After he got home that night he showed his sisters his prize. They were dumbfounded and excited. The next day all four kids went to the pawn shop where their uncle worked. The uncle’s eyes opened wide in surprise after examining the coin.

It was a $4 gold piece called a “Flowering Hair Stella” and was worth hundreds of thousands of dollars! The uncle was trembling when he picked up the phone and called an appraiser he knew.

“I’d guess you’ll get somewhere around $200,000 at auction,” the expert said.

All four kids screamed out loud in joy! The uncle was busy figuring out how he could get a cut of this sudden good fortune.

A month later life had changed drastically after they moved into a new house in a nice neighborhood. This sudden life of luxury caused them all to go a bit crazy and they spent most of their money.

Leroy thought about what the stranger said. He unpacked his old clothes which he couldn’t bear to throw away, and put them on. It took him a while to find his shoeshine stand. Someone had put it in attic.

He showed up at the same street where he met the stranger just before dark. The poor lighting caused shadows to undulate along the buildings and pour out into the street. He was looking at the ones across the street when he heard a cough nearby.

“Ahhhhum,” the stranger said, “You’ve returned to shine my shoes, I see.”

“Yes sir,” Leroy meekly agreed.

This time the stranger was more talkative.

“What did you do with the gold coin I gave you” he asked.

“I used it to put a roof over my family’s head, and for food for all of us,” he answered.

“Excellent! Good boy! Here’s your payment for tonight’s work.”

He handed Leroy a gold coin that looked just like the other one.

“In a month then?”

Yes…thank you!

When Leroy returned home that night he showed his sisters the gold coin. Their excitement soon changed to suspicion.

“Where you gettin these coins?” Latasha, his oldest sister asked.

“Told you. I got it for giving a man a shoeshine,” he said sullenly.

The same man?” she queried.

“Maybe...”

“What you mean maybe? C’mon lil man, this is me! Your sissy.”

Leroy began to feel guilty. He loved all of his sisters and he was keeping a big secret from them.

“Yeah…it was from the same man.”

“How did you find him again?” Tisha, his other sister asked.

“Well, that’s easy,” Tonya, the third sister claimed. “He went back to the same neighborhood. Isn’t that right Leroy?

“Yeah.”

The next day all four kids, and their mother, went to an independent coin appraiser to cut the uncle out of this windfall. He proved to be an ass the last time, demanding finders fees.

The coin was put up for auction a month later, and sold for $250,000.

This time, the mother and sisters paid off their accumulated bills, and took the rest and invested it in the stock market. Two days later the stock market crashed on Tuesday, October 24th, 1929!

The following night Leroy kept his appointment with the stranger. Once again the stranger was talkative.

“So, what did you do with the last gold coin I gave you?” 

Leroy hesitated. He hated telling the truth and risking rebuke, but he was an honest kid.

“My family lost it,” he admitted.

The stranger’s eyes darkened in anger. He looked Leroy in the eyes as if reading his mind. His countenance softening when he spoke, “I’m sorry to hear that. Here’s your coin. It’s the last one you’ll get from me. Better luck with this one boy.

Leroy looked down in his hand and saw the same type of coin as the other two. When he looked up the stranger was gone. He stood there for minutes on the sidewalk, watching the fog creep in.

When he got home he hid the coin. He would wait until he was 21 years-old and could lay claim to it without any legal challenges from his family.

As Leroy neared his legal age, he was still shining shoes. He seemed to enjoy the streets however, and started telling fantastic stories that his customers enjoyed. Their favorite story was how Leroy was really rich and was doing this – shining shoes – to pass time.

As It Stands, this was my twist on the generous stranger genre.

The Cuckoo Went Tick Tock

Jake was running for his life! His chest and face were splattered with fresh blood. Behind him he could hear dogs baying like lost souls. He was heading straight for the swamp when someone fired a shot!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

Jake was playing chess with Bobby Fischer, the American grandmaster who was also constantly paranoid that someone was after him. To his amazement, he had Bobby in a bad position.

The temperamental Fisher suddenly overturned the board and stomped out of the gallery. Jake looked up at the judges…waiting for their decision.

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The time machine appeared in the middle of a grassy meadow where he’d been sleeping. Jake’s joy at seeing it again was short-lived. For the hundredth time he regretted taking the damn cuckoo clock when he transported to Germany on his maiden voyage.

He ignored the warnings of the clock maker who said it was cursed. He watched the time machine disappear and then…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The whistle blew; “Over the top!” the sergeant shouted as he led the way out of the muddy trench. He was met with a withering fire that was cutting men down like sheaves of wheat.

Jake looked at his M-1 carbine with bayonet attached, and waited for the next whistle. When it came, the second wave of Americans charged out bravely. Jake stumbled along until he heard someone scream, “Gas!

He dropped to his knees and fumbled around, putting his gas mask on just as the deadly chemical cloud came his way with the wind. Some men who weren’t as fast as he was, and they rolled about on the muddy ground in agony. A bombshell burst overheard…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The dark clouds gathered menacingly over the gallows. Three ropes. Three men. A small crowd had gathered despite the weather which threatened a deluge. Jake was standing nearby watching from a small platform.

After the priest read the doomed men their last rites, the crowd turned to Jake expectedly. He could feel their eyes urging him to give the signal. He didn’t want to send the poor sodden souls to their maker, but it was his job as mayor.

There was a loud crack of thunder, and as Jake gave the signal, lightning lashed the sky and carried their souls to eternity.

The cuckoo went tick tock. 

It was a hot muggy day in Dallas as Jake, who was part of the Secret Service detail that  ran alongside President Kennedy’s car, heard the shot and turned in time to see the back of Kennedy’s head explode!

Chaos broke out! Jake looked frantically around for the shooter and saw a silver flash in a grassy knoll nearby. The people who came to see the president were screaming and crying.

Jake looked over and one of his team pointed at a building. He started off in that direction…

The cuckoo went tick tock.

When Jake heard the cry for help he stood up on the lifeguard platform and checked to see where it was coming from. He spotted a young girl who was actively drowning past the breakers and towards the open sea.

Grabbing a small red paddle board he ran out to rescue her. Within minutes he was beside her and she was holding on to the paddle board. As he got ready to help her back to the beach he saw a large fin break the water nearby!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

He was closing in on the lead car and Jake was about to catch it when another car hit him from behind! He spun across the track, slammed into the wall, and came to rest in the inside lane.

His crew was running towards him shouting. Jake took off his helmet and tried to get out of the car, but was stuck! Two crew members cut him loose and pulled him out just as the car broke out into flames!

The announcer was calling for medical help as Jake and the two crew members all rolled on the ground trying to extinguish their burning clothes.

The cuckoo went tick tock.

The men in the white coats didn’t understand. Jack wasn’t crazy. He didn’t belong here. He told them he had a cuckoo clock in his time machine, and it somehow messed up his calculations and kept disappearing and transporting him to other places.

The men in the white coats nodded solemnly and escorted him to his bed. Jake was stuck. At least for now. When the clock struck another hour, he would be unwillingly transported to a different moment of time.

Time was against him until that damn cuckoo clock died! It was an 8-day movement that needed to be rewound after a week. He was barely through the cycle, having suffered 26 trips/hours in time thus far.

He had 186 more hours to go!

The cuckoo went tick tock.

As It Stands, we all have a limited amount of time in this world.

The Power Of Love

Love recoiled when Alex was born. 

He never got to suckle at his mother’s warm breast, because she left him with the Catholic Church, who named him Alexander, after the saint St. Alexander of Jerusalem.

He was born on March 1st, 1951, at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland. The overcrowded facility offered shelter to orphans, unwed mothers, and their children.

Times were hard for many Irish. There were more than a dozen other places like Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home throughout the land. The majority of children who died at these homes were buried on site, in unmarked graves. It was one of many secrets kept by the nuns (and their superiors) who ran the homes.

Growing up, Alex barely fought off starvation, like his peers. The weaker ones died and disappeared. The children heard the nuns and priests talk of love – Agape love, and other aspects of love – but couldn’t picture what love looked like.

The nuns never smiled, and were perpetually angry about something. Even the priests who came to bless the children at certain times of the year, frowned while preaching. The constant struggle to find food – between meals of mush with mystery meat – caused the children to be wary of one another.

As soon as a child was five-years-old, they were put to work. They worked at menial tasks inside, and outside in the fields until darkness fell. There were no chubby children there. Even the dominant ones – who managed to scavenger food better than the others – were thin and sickly looking.

One day, just after his twelfth birthday, Alex ran away.

He was hardened by the way he was raised, and willing to take his chances anywhere else, but the home he grew up in. What little food he brought with him, wrapped up in an extra shirt, only lasted two days before his stomach was growling with hunger.

He walked along the main road, after sticking to the woods, on the third day. A car would pass now and then, but no one seemed interested in a young boy. It was a rural area and travelers probably thought he lived nearby.

If he wasn’t so thirsty, his water ran out with his food, he might have been impressed with the endless green rolling hills ahead of him. It was big world, and he was just getting a taste of it.

Exhausted, Alex sat down on the side of the road. It was getting dark and he was weak from thirst and hunger. After a while, he fell asleep on the grass.

When he woke up the next morning, he was in a house on someone’s couch! A middle-aged man with black hair and beard, was sitting in a chair watching him.

“How is it that yer out, and ’bout on yer own?” he asked him.

“Please sir! Don’t take me back!” Alex cried out.

“Easy lad…no need to talk ’bout that okay? I din’t care what yer story be. It’s yer plans from here, that interests me.

Alex looked into the man’s eyes. They were dark brown with hints of gold. A deep scar stretched across his right cheek. He had a broken nose. His expression was neutral.

“I need a place to live,” he said, with fear dancing in his eyes.

“I see, lad. I’ll let you live with me, but ther be rules ye must follow.”

Relief poured through Alex’s body as he agreed to the mystery man’s request.

“Sir…what shall I call you?

“Call me Da,” he said, standing up.

The man looked at the skinny boy nervously tapping his fingers on his knee and smiled. This naive boy would fit very nicely into his future plans.

“Are ye hungry lad?”

“Yes sir…er Da!

“Well then boy…I’ve laid out some food for ya in the kitchen. Help yerself.”

As Alex bit into an apple he thought about how nice the man’s face got when he smiled. Was this love?,” he wondered as he took another bite.

Da, aka Seamus Brennen, was a lifelong thief. He made his living stealing from rural farms and homes far from the big city police. His old assistant was caught by the police six months ago and he’d been looking for a replacement since.

Finding Alex was a God send – even through Seamus didn’t believe in God. He was still young enough to train him in the tools of the trade. It was the devotion in Alex’s eyes that assured him he made the right pick.

The key to Alex’s attention was praising him as he learned how to pick locks and where to look for money in most homes. Their partnership flourished for seven years as they moved from one rural area to another, always a few steps ahead of the local police.

Alex was nearly a man now and like a son to Seamus. His wide shoulders and slender waist made him look like a body-builder. He was also taller than Seamus, with wild blond hair and hints of a beard.

His loyalty, and love, were always there. He never had trouble with his conscience, despite his religious upbringing.

One day, as Seamus took a nap in the car under the shade of a tree, Alex went for a walk. Hours later he came upon a young woman milking a cow in a field. He could see a barn not too far away, but no other people.

Like most young men of his age, Alex was curious and also getting funny feelings when around women. He watched her for a few minutes before slowly approaching. She was beautiful! Her long golden hair fell in ringlets as he stared in awe.

He thought, “This is what a princess looks like.” 

Suddenly she turned around and looked at him…and smiled. His heart did an Irish jig and he attempted to smile back. When he got closer, she was still smiling and asked him what his name was?

He blurted out his name, as his cheeks grew red with embarrassment, “Alex…and yours?

She picked up the milking pail and asked him if he’d like a drink of water?

“Oh, aye…” he stammered awkwardly.

“My name is Sarah. Follow me…”

He followed a few steps behind, admiring her youthful body in the plain white dress she was wearing. He felt a giddiness like nothing else before. She was singing an old shepherd’s song as they came to the barn.

She showed him a bench to sit on and went and pumped water from the well, after taking the milk into the house. When she returned with a full tin-cup of water he was trying to compose himself. He had zero experience with women. Da saw to that.

They sat and talked twenty minutes before someone called Sarah from within the house. He felt an electricity, but being a virgin he wasn’t sure what to do or say. Before she went into the house she asked him to come back tonight, and meet her here by the barn.

Their eyes locked for another moment – she smiled sweetly – then hurried off into the house.

When she got inside she went up to her father who was standing near the window looking out. Two of their neighbors were sitting by the cold fireplace with shotguns across their laps.

“Just one,” she reported. “The other one must be near by.”

The men discussed how they’d ambush at least one of the thieves who had been haunting several counties for nearly a decade. They’d catch them in the act if the damn police couldn’t!

When Seamus woke up Alex was sitting at the base of the tree humming a tune. He looked guiltily over when he saw Seamus was watching him. The smile left his face.

“Did ye take a good nap then lad?”

“Aye.”

‘Tis a good thing. We ha work to do tonight,” he smiled and opened the car door.

Alex got in. They drove down the road for a mile, before Seamus pulled off the road and into a grove of trees.

“Will we stay in the county tonight?” Alex anxiously asked.

“Aye! Our targit for tonight is nearby,” he said, getting out of the car. They snacked on chunks of stale bread and waited for nightfall.

Alex followed Seamus. There was only a sliver of a moon peeking out from the dark clouds. When they came to a familiar barn Alex froze. This was where Sarah lived. There was the bench they sat on.

Seamus picked up on his apparent confusion and concern.

“What’s wrong lad” he whispered.

A war was going on in Alex’s head. Was it love at first sight with Sarah? He knew Da loved him. Hadn’t he taken care of him all of these years? But she made his heart leap with her golden hair and luscious lips! Her eyes promised heaven if he returned that night.

“Let’s leave…” he nervously whispered back.

“Say what…?”

Then Seamus saw movement on the side of the house. Men with guns!

Without saying another word, he followed Alex who was now on the ground and crawling in the opposite direction towards their car. They could hear angry voices in the night as they furiously crawled for their lives.

It wasn’t until they got back in the car, and were miles down the road, before Seamus found his voice, “Thanks lad! How did ye know?”

When Alex told Seamus about his visit to the farm while he was taking a nap, a single tear slipped out of one of Seamus’s eyes. This kid he adopted for a life of crime loved him enough to admit what he did, and then saved them both from a certain ambush and possibly death.

“Ye know Alex,” Seamus said the next day, “I know some pretty lassies that would love to meet a lad like you!”

Alex blushed. “Thanks Da,” he said with all of his heart.

As It Stands, love doesn’t always come perfectly packaged, but can be counted on to do the right thing.

Undying Love

A spark of life suddenly animated Arnaud Harte’s moldering corpse. 

His body had been thrown into a large hole with hundreds of other French soldiers after the Battle of France – also known as the Fall of France – against the Germans months before.

Now, he clawed at the dirt surrounding him with supernatural strength until he broke through to the surface.

His uniform was rotting off his decomposed corpse as he crawled out of the hole into the moonlight. Anna Marie, the love of his life, was in danger! He clearly remembered telling her, before going off to battle, that he’d always protect her…no matter what.

The German patrol was tracking Anna Marie and the other five members of the French Resistance in a forest near Paris. For two days they had eluded the Germans, but they were wearing down and several were wounded. Anna Marie was among those wounded.

The German pursuers had made camp and were setting up a perimeter when Arnaud shambled over to one of the sentries and grabbed him from behind! He never saw the thing that choked him to death. Fortunately, he didn’t feel it bite into his face!

Arnaud took his bayonet and went hunting for another sentry. As he approached another sentry the man suddenly turned around and saw him! He screamed in terror and fired a round at Arnaud, which passed through his body with no effect.

What the sentry saw was a vision from hell! It wore a ragged French uniform over it’s decaying flesh. It’s teeth were exposed in a death mask created by rigor mortis. The hallow eyes burned with hell fires. Patches of stringy hair hung from it’s partly bald head.

He meant to fire again but the thing had swiftly moved in and stabbed him in the throat with it’s bayonet. The soldier’s terrified eyes grew dull as Arnaud kept stabbing him. When he finished he went looking for another victim.

When the German camp awakened early the next morning, Hauptmann Reinhard was already barking at his men. Then he started getting the reports. Every sentry that night was dead! Not just dead, but dead and horribly mutilated!

A pall settled over the remaining soldiers. Each one felt a fear like nothing they’d ever experienced before. They had to hastily bury the bodies as Hauptmann Reinhard was eager to pursue the French Resistance fighters.

He didn’t know what to think about the men’s deaths. In all of his years in the military he’d never seen anything like it. They were all partly eaten! He couldn’t let the men know his concerns though. He had a job to do.

Later that day, shortly before the sun went down, the Germans caught up to the French fighters. In the ensuing firefight four Germans and three of the French fighters were killed. The two French survivors crawled away into the underbrush as night fell.

There were still twelve Germans left, counting Hauptmann Reinhard, when the firing stopped. It was a moonless night and the wind whispered through the trees. A wolf howled forlornly.

Anna Marie was bleeding from two wounds. One in her left arm and another in the chest. Joan Fournier, her fellow resistance fighter, was hit twice in the chest and was barely alive. They both lay hidden in a thicket of bushes. Anna Marie had a revolver with three shots left.

The German soldiers were dispirited. They couldn’t get their comrades deaths out of their minds. All of them were hardened infantry who saw several major campaigns. None of them had ever seen anything like it. Four sentries were stationed around their small perimeter.

The wolf stopped howling and the creatures of the forest were unnaturally quiet. Arnaud snuck up on a sentry and drove his bayonet through his throat! Then he sunk his teeth into the man’s face and ripped away flesh!

By the time Arnaud killed the other three sentries the sun was coming up. One of the first soldiers to awaken walked outside the perimeter to take a piss. When he saw the mangled body of his comrade he screamed uncontrollably. The rest of the camp came alive and men grabbed their rifles as they sprung up from their sleeping bags.

Hauptmann Reinhard had his Ruger out and ordered two of the men to investigate where the screams were coming from. Arnaud waited until the two new arrivals came upon their screaming comrade to attack!

He drove his bayonet into one man’s mouth and grabbed the other’s rifle from him. The other soldier went down like an ox when Arnaud shot him in the head!

It was time to end the chase once and for all.

Arnaud walked into the camp where the four surviving Germans were. He started shooting and they retuned fire. Their bullets however had no effect on Arnaud. Pieces of his decaying flesh flew off from the impact of the bullets.

The last German alive was Hauptmann Reinhard. When the smoke cleared he was lying on the ground but trying to get himself up. Arnaud walked over to him and gave his best death head grin. Then he brought the butt end of his rifle down on Reinhard’s skull!

When Arnaud found Anna Marie she was barely alive and unconscious. Next to her was her friend Joan, who had passed away during the night. He sat down next to her and held her hand as she took her last breath.

Somewhere in another world, they were alive and healthy again; and still very much in love.

As It Stands, a violent love story is off the beaten track.