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.

Don’t Forget To Read The Fine Print

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1636 – south-western France

“Your first target will be released at sunrise on this open plain. There are rules to this game. One of the first, and foremost, is you have to count until 25 the moment you see your target, before going after him.”

“What other rules are there monsieur?” Demonte Thomas asked as he strung his bow.

You can’t go after your prey if he makes it through the forest and to the other side of the valley.”

“So many rules,” Chauncey Girard grumbled, “I hope there’s no rules against taking souvenirs, if you know what I mean.”

“No. You may dispatch of your prey as you see fit. After all, it’s one of the things you’re paying for. Just a reminder, you have to use bow and arrow, and one knife. Guns are forbidden.”

“We’re ready to play by the rules. After paying for transportation here from the Year 2018, the last thing we want is to have this hunt called off,” Avellino Lefevre said.

“One more thing,” the guide added, “Just a reminder. Our company cannot be held liable for whatever happens on these hunts. You all signed contracts to that effect. I hope you read them carefully.”

The three hunters assured their guide that they did.

“Why did you pick this time and place?” Demonte asked Girard who was testing the pull on his bow.

“Because of the novelty it presented,” he explained.

“Novelty?” Demonte asked.

“This is the year when French peasants who called themselves croquant’s (literally, “crunchers”) revolted against their masters. It’s an extremely bad time for the French nobility who found themselves scurrying around for their lives.”

“I don’t follow?” Avellino injected.

“Our guide mentioned an option for hunting nobility during his pitch for this place. I don’t know if you were listening closely, but this is a very rare hunting opportunity,” Girard said.

After the three men drew straws to see who would go first, Girard won the honor. The guide led them to a hunting lodge where they would spend the night.

The next morning.

As the sun struggled to break through the fog on the plain, Girard was taken to a spot where he was told to look for his prey who would be released in minutes. When he finally spotted a well-dressed brightly colored man whose clothes were torn and dirty, he raised the bow and starting counting to twenty-five.

Before he could send the arrow on its way however, the man disappeared into the thick fog. Irritated, Girard lowered his bow – it would have been a shot of about 50 yards – and cautiously headed towards where he last saw him.

The fog was slowly dissipating when he caught another glance of his prey. He was almost at the tree line. Girard knew it would be more difficult to get a good shot once in the forest, but welcomed the challenge. It was what he paid for, after all. He picked up his pace.

Girard was a seasoned hunter and tracker. His prey was a terrified nobleman who was use to a life of luxury.

When Girard inevitably caught up to him he was hiding behind a fallen tree. He’d dug his way in among the leaves and broken limbs and was out of breath and panting heavily.

“Pas!” he gasped in horror when he saw Girard.

It was still daylight when Girard returned carrying a bloody scalp and two ears in his leather hunting pouch.

His comrades toasted him at the lodge that night for a successful hunt.

The next morning.

Avellino paced back and forth eagerly looking for his prey as the sun climbed up into the sky. The plain was clear with a strong wind blowing through the wildflowers and tall grass.

He spotted movement out of the corner of his right eye. Seconds passed. Then he saw his prey. His colorful clothes made him an easy target. Avellino starting counting…one…two…three…” as his target ran full-out for the forest.

“Twenty-five!” he shouted while notching the arrow.

The man was almost to the tree line when he let the shaft go. It arched high in the sky and came down into the running man’s back! A couple of seconds went by before the man rose up from the ground, and resumed running!

Cursing, Avellino broke out into a full run towards the forest. If there was one thing that really irritated him, it was a sloppy kill. He prided himself on “clean” kills. He built a reputation on being a one-shot hunter.

It didn’t take long for him to find a blood trail. A drop here, and there, and soon he saw his prey. His was standing next to a tree, one arm leaning against it for support. He was panting heavily, trying to take a full breath of air when he saw Avellino.

There was no fear in his eyes. He stared at Avellino disapprovingly. The men’s eyes locked. Frozen in the moment.

The next morning.

Demonte had a hard time staying focused on the plain. He was wondering why Avellino didn’t come back from his hunt yesterday. Girard was on a two-day drunk and didn’t even miss Avellino at the lodge last night. The guide didn’t seem concerned.

Suddenly his prey popped up in the center of the plain. He made a perfect target with his bright gold chemise, broad white lace collar, and voluminous sleeves. His scarlet breeches contrasted sharply with the gold that now seemed to shine in the sun as he ran for the tree line.

Demonte took his time counting. He watched, fascinated with the bright colors and the pace the man was running at. He was loping along easily. Not running in a panic. His lizard/hunter brain took notice as he notched his arrow and let it fly.

At almost the same time, the man suddenly stopped running! He came to an abrupt halt and looked back at Demonte. The arrow flew over his head by a mere five yards, sinking safely into the grass. This quarry apparently knew something about archery and hunting.

Demonte ran towards the still standing figure. As he got closer the man turned and ran into the forest. Alarm bells were going off in Demonte’s head. He had a bad feeling this wasn’t going to be a one-sided hunt. He slowed down when he got to the tree line and cautiously stepped into the dense forest.

He decided to put the bow over his shoulder and pulled his hunting knife. As he passed a particularly large tree his quarry stepped out while swing a thick tree limb like a club! He caught Demonte on the side of his skull, bashing it in like a pumpkin!

The next day.

Girard woke up from his monumental drunk and packed his bag. It was time to meet up with the guide and to go home. When he arrived at the pre-arranged spot the guide was there waiting. His friends were nowhere to be seen.

“Where Is Avellino and Demonte?” he asked the guide.

“They won’t be leaving. Avellino no longer exists. He killed his own ancestor. The possibility of that happening was in the fine print that I asked if you all read. Whenever a hunter chooses to hunt in the country of their origin they take that chance.

“What about Demonte?” he asked meekly.

“He met up with another hunter from this time period. He was a nobleman known for his passion to hunt. This possibility was also mentioned in your contract. You hunters are always so eager to get on with things you don’t read the fine print. Or else, you do and don’t care.”

“I’m ready to go home now,” an unnerved Girard said.

As It Stands, it’s always that fine print that catches you.

The Secret Of The Old Dunsmere House

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

If it wasn’t for the lightning, Cecil would never have gone into the old Dunsmere house.

The intensity of the storm made visibility difficult. He was still, at least, an hour walk from town. The fierce storm lashed the trees that lined the lane leading to the deserted old house.

Cecil cursed his junk heap of a pickup truck for the hundredth time. It was broken down on the side of the road four miles out-of-town. He suspected the engine finally gave up the ghost when he saw smoke pouring out of the block.

He was born and raised in Louderville, Tennessee, population 1,788. He knew all about the Dunsmere House, and the ghost stories associated with it. As a kid, he and his friends would go by there on Halloween and dare each other to go inside.

No one ever accepted the dare.

The house was built in 1858. It’s builder, Lucius Dunsmere, was destined to be a captain in the Confederate Army. He was killed at Gettysburg in Pickett’s valiant charge against a well-entrenched Union Army.

His wife, Dorie May, remained a widow for two years before marrying a prosperous businessman; Earl Jason Jones, who came with a cloudy past. No one seemed to know where he was from, or exactly how he acquired his wealth.

He built a hardware store in town and soon became a member of the city council. He was an outgoing personality who never tired of hearing his own voice. At six-feet, two inches, he was taller than the average man at the time.

It was easy to see how he stood out in a crowd with his flaming red beard, and booming voice. No one in town could beat him at arm-wrestling during drunken saloon gatherings. His ability to consume alcohol was legendary.

What people in town didn’t know about Jones was that he beat his wife and young adopted son, Blake, for the slightest infraction of his rules. They were prisoners in their own house. One more thing about Jones; he was a hired killer, willing to murder anyone for the right price.

It amused him to live in two worlds. 

One day Earl pushed his luck too far. He was beating Dorie May for not shining his boots well enough when 12-year old Blake snuck up on him and stabbed him in the back! He pulled the hunting knife out, and when Earl turned to face him…slit his throat with a vicious slash!

His life blood squirted out on Dorie May, and Blake. It splattered the floor and two walls. His big body crashed onto the wooden floor, thrashing about for a bit before finally stopping.

They both knew they hid to hide his body. It would be too hard to convince his cronies that he was attacking them, and they were only defended themselves.

It was Blake’s idea to cut the body up and to hide the parts throughout the house.

The story goes that Dorie May and Blake convinced the towns people that Earl Jason Jones took off on his own, deserting his family. When Dorie May passed away in 1891 the house reverted to Blake, who didn’t want anything to do with it.

The new owners were said to have discovered a dismembered torso in the basement and promptly moved out while the police investigated. The house was already in need of repair and the new owners gave up trying to sell it (the local gossips assured that).

As Cecil warily opened the front door, his heart was beating like a drummer in a rock band. He tried to calm himself and stepped inside. Lightning lit the room up through the open door for a moment, revealing antique furniture in need of repair.

A broken chair lay in the entryway. As he carefully stepped around it a loud clap of thunder made him piss his pants! The suddenness and the following humiliation were draining away his resolve to be brave.

He couldn’t help from feeling like that little boy who came to the house for Halloween and was afraid to enter. He did it now, but there were no witnesses. No one to share the feeling of terror that was growing inside of him like a living thing.

The wind whistled through a broken window in the living room and screeched through the house like a banshee. The spatter of rain that followed, soaked the moldering couch beneath it. A rat ran across the room and disappeared into the ancient cushion on an overstuffed chair.

He felt an additional coldness in the air. An evil presence. Even with his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could only make out basic shapes. He slid down the wall in the entry way into a sitting position.

A woman cried out in pain! A man growled something in response. The voice of a boy pleaded with the man to stop.

Cecil tried to stand, so he could run, but his legs had turned into rubber.

A woman screamed in terror! Again, and again!

The blood curdling quality of the scream finally motivated him enough to stand up…but, he ran the wrong way and into a wall, smashing through the thin sawn wood lath that was used to support plaster, exposing a hidden room.

Thunder rolled through the valley. The following lightning lit up the old house once more and Cecile saw a skull sitting on a tiny table in the corner. Next to it stood a tall man with a red beard.

Cecile’s sanity slipped away into the night.

When the search party found him two days later, he was near death and in a coma. They transported him to the county hospital where he was put in the intensive care ward.

Two weeks later Cecile came out of his coma, and was transferred to a regular room. He still hadn’t talked yet.

The doctor thought it was a good idea for his old school buddies to visit him. They might even get him to talk. One Sunday, when a group of his old buddies stopped by to see him, Cecile spoke!

He sat up in the bed and looked everyone over carefully. They clustered closer.

Any of you boys wanna arm wrestle for a drink?” he asked his stunned friends.

As It Stands, it’s always a good idea to avoid haunted houses.

Night Missions

I hate it when people interrupt me.

It makes me crazy sometimes.

I live alone in a small one-bedroom house in east Los Angeles. I’m retired Marine Gunny Sgt. Alan Todd Singleton. I try like hell to lead a quiet life. I go to the VFW Hall every afternoon for a beer…or two.

Sometimes the language gets salty when too many beers are consumed and a fight breaks out during these afternoon outings. I’ve lost track of how many morons have interrupted my conversations in the last year, and how many tough guys I punched out for the offense.

But, I have to be careful these days because the management is threatening to ban me if I get in another fight. I’ve taken to drinking at the bar now, and not at a table with others. I banter with the old Marine bartender, but avoid getting into any lengthy conversations with him.

The only reason I go to the VFW is to remind myself that I can be sociable. A normal guy. It’s a way to keep in touch with the human race without getting too intimate with anyone. I have too many secrets. Too many things that burden my conscience.

It’s the nights that are really bad for me.

Things happen. Violent things. My memories of my night excursions are almost always vague the next day. A convoluted series of snapshots and conversations. Sometimes I have to clean blood off my arms, face, and clothing – which I usually just burn.

One thing is terrifyingly clear; I hunt humans at night. I never stopped after coming back from my third tour-of-duty in the Nam. That was in 1970, and this is 2018. I’ve lived all over the United States these last few decades.

You can see why I would have to keep moving. Too many deaths in one area over a period of time attracts too much heat. The cops set up taskforces and the pickings get slim. Then it’s time to move.

I’ve managed to last a year here in east LA, but I suspect my time is coming to an end. Maybe forever. Skill and dumb luck will only take a man so far. I’ve beaten the odds thus far. I know that.

Especially after last night. The weird thing is I remember almost everything that happened.

I was walking aimlessly on North Eastern Avenue near the Santa Ana freeway, when three home-boys stepped out of a front-yard and blocked my path on the sidewalk. They laughed and flashed gang signs at me.

I couldn’t understand what they were saying. I never took Spanish in high school.

The volume of their curses rose and they all three pulled out their switchblades – slowly swaying them in front of me. I grabbed the first wrist, twisted it, took the knife, and slashed the gangster’s throat!

It wasn’t like I moved that fast, but I never wasted a move, and immediately grabbed the arm and wrist of the second assailant, twisting and breaking it like a twig. The third attacker lunged, as I threw the second down one down with a judo move.

I moved sidewise and let his momentum carry him by me…off balance. Then I tripped him and watched him hit the concrete sidewalk with a thick thud. His neck was twisted at an odd angle and partly hanging off the curb, when I turned my attention back onto the last remaining attacker.

He was crying and holding his broken arm, and didn’t put up any resistance when I put him in a chokehold and snapped his neck like a dry branch. No one came out of the houses. I was alone with three dead men, and thinking, “Mission accomplished.”

I think it’s time to go. The media is blasting about last night’s murders. Cops are as thick as fleas in my neighborhood this morning. Groups of  angry, and probably scared, gangsters are patrolling the hood…looking for answers. Looking for me.

A week later. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

It was easy finding a VFW chapter with it’s own hall here. Lots of old military farts like me come to retire. Ex-Marines, Army, Navy, Air Force. We all like living in the sun. Keeps our old bones warm.

I wonder if there are any others like me out there that still carry out night missions?

I’ll tell right now…I wouldn’t be surprised if there were. I haven’t met one yet, but it seems like I can’t be the only trained killer in America that continued his craft after leaving the military.

I don’t mean by going to work as a mercenary or glamor bodyguard. I mean regular guys like me that chose to stay out of the limelight…and hunt. Guys who don’t need an audience when they slay their prey.

True hunters, like myself. Think about it.

As It Stands, as a veteran, I’m always exploring issues that deal with the military.

The Imposter

London, 1828 –

The Fraternal Brotherhood of Resurrectionists

Vernon Barker sat in the rear of the dark and dank room, listening to the impassioned speaker up front. His mind was wandering however.

He was thinking about when he decided to write a book about grave robbers. The idea seemed exciting. Adventurous. He’d go under cover for a year and write a blockbuster expose on stealing human corpses.

That was two years ago. And now, here he was. Locked up in a lunatic asylum.

Vernon started out as a grave digger. It wasn’t too bad, because all he had to do was dig the body up – fill in the hole – and two other men came and took it from there. The bodies were going to medical schools, he was told.

As time went by he moved up to transporting corpses to the hospitals. He liked talking with the doctors who were always surprised to find out that he could read and write. It was an unusual set of skills for a common grave robber – or “Resurrectionist” as they were otherwise known at the time.

In general, most authorities at the time didn’t worry too much about the practice of stealing bodies. The medical community lent a certain respectability to it. Forwarding medical science, and all that good stuff.

The resurrectionists made sure not to steal anything such as jewelry or fine clothing as this would have caused them to be liable for felony charges.

The resurrectionists were a tight-knit community with many strange beliefs. They also had a rough code of honor not adhered to by all of the other grave robbers in the city. They had a tier system where a man could rise through the ranks, and become privy to the organization’s biggest secrets.

The grand master of the group, Giles de Morta, always appeared wearing a plain black opera mask. His real identity was only known to the inner circle.

Vernon slowly worked his way through the levels, as he carried out his masters commands. He was no longer an apprentice. His diligence and hard work were paying off. He just had one more level to go until he reached the top, and got access to the groups’ greatest secrets.

The greatest risk that he took was keeping notes. He needed to write things down for future reference. His memory wasn’t enough. He was fully aware of the risk he took if it was discovered. He shuddered to think about it, but held to his course.

The group always met in the tunnels and catacombs beneath the city streets. There were miles of these tunnels stretching out and going down deep into the earth’s bowels. It was easy to get lost if you didn’t live there for years with the guidance of the brotherhood.

Authorities seldom ventured into their kingdom.

Quite by chance one day, Vernon stumbled upon something that rocked his entire world!

He was going through a different sector to save time getting back to a meeting when he heard odd guttural sounds. The came from a room to his left. To his utter horror, a small group of five men were standing around a corpse and slicing pieces off it!

“A feast for the gods!” the Grand Master in his black opera mask chanted, after chewing on the hunk of human flesh in his hand.

“For the gods!” the other men chanted several times between loathsome bites.

He backed out of the room almost immediately, praying no one saw him. They were all chanting loudly in a growing frenzy as he fled down the tunnels in mindless terror and got lost.

He wandered for days, fearing for his life. He didn’t know for sure if one of the men – or more like one of the ghouls – saw his shocked face. As he sat down on a sewer curb to rest he suddenly realized his notebook wasn’t inside his jacket pocket!

Sheer panic gripped him for a moment! His breath came in short gasps as he thought about what would happen if one of the brothers found it. All of his careful observations – and worse yet his thoughts and plans – were laid out in that small notebook.

He noticed a ray of light coming from a sewer grate up ahead. He could go topside and figure out where he was when he surfaced. Vernon was tired and hungry as he headed for the light.

Once back on the familiar cobblestones that led to his small flat, he dared to breathe a small sigh of relief. He went straight to a pub and ordered a beer. It landed like lead on his empty stomach and he was forced to go to the back alley and vomit there among the trash.

People came and went in the alley, laughing and talking, not even noticing Vernon bent over and groaning pitifully. When his stomach settled enough to stand, he headed for his flat, buying a loaf of bread along the way.

When he woke up the next morning he was shocked to see his diary on the lone table in his room. There was a piece of crisp white paper with the word “Imposter!” on it, tucked between the pages. He tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry.

The brotherhood was on to him! So why was he spared when the notebook and note were delivered? He was an easy target sleeping on his mangled mattress. It became apparent to him why he wasn’t dead yet as the days passed by.

They were playing with him. Mocking him. One day when he least expected it, they would kill him. He needed a safe haven. That’s when he decided to go to the police and see if they would protect him after he told them about the brotherhood’s cannibalistic practices.

When Sgt. Patrick Henry O’Shea saw Vernon standing outside his office door in his torn and dirty clothing he felt like just telling him to get out – to leave him alone – but he knew he couldn’t. He was a public servant, and as such he had to listen to everyone’s gripes.

He had to maintain a certain air of fairness, regardless of how he personally felt about bums like this one.

“How can I help you sir?”

“My name is Vernon Barker.”

“How can I help you, Mr. Barker?”

It took twenty minutes for Vernon to tell his story. By the time he was done he was bathed in sweat and Sgt. O’Shea was convinced he was loony bin material.

“The man must be mad! Grave diggers eating corpses! What blarney!” he thought. He called out to the patrolman in the hallway, “O’Toole! Come take this man to the waiting cell.”

Vernon stood up, alarmed. “What are you doing?” he asked, his voice rising a notch.

“It’s quit all right Mr. Barker,” Sgt. O’Shea assured him. “I’m going to put you in a safe place.”

Vernon’s shouts and howls disappeared down the hallway of the police station and into the depths of the old brick buildings holding cell.

The next day.

Hanwell Pauper and Lunatic Asylum

“Hello doctor, how are my wards doing today?” the hospital’s administrator asked a doctor giving a man an injection to calm him down.

“Very well, I’d say sir. Very well indeed. Oh, we do have a new patient. He came in yesterday. Quit upset too, I might add.”

Vernon sat with his back against the cell wall. No one would listen to him. No one believed his story. When his cell door opened a man in a three-piece gray suit entered and introduced himself as the facility’s administrator.

In one last desperate attempt Vernon blurted out his story again. The administrator stood silently across from him, listening with a strange smile on his face. When Vernon ran out of words the administrator pulled out a small black opera mask from his inside jacket pocket and put it on!

Vernon’s screams of horror mingled  with the rest of the lunatics there.

As It Stands, there’s nothing more lonely than not being believed.

A Timely Revenge

It was Skip Barger’s dream to be a forest ranger.

He had always enjoyed hiking, fishing, and camping. When he finally did became a forest ranger at Glacier National Park in Montana, it was the highlight of his young life.

He loved working alone and not having a regular routine. Most of the time his interactions with the public were positive. He loved the rugged peaks, clear waters, and glacial-carved valleys of the park and felt honored to work there.

He spent his free time reading about the park’s history. There was evidence that human’s lived in the park as far back as 10,000 years. Long before the white man came there several different tribes occupied the area.

It was home to the Blackfeet Indians who controlled the vast prairies east of the mountains. It was also the hunting grounds for the Salish and Kootenai Indians who lived in the western valleys.

Skip loved hiking through the vast park looking for new sights and trails to document. One day he came into an area he wasn’t familiar with. He lost track of time and realized he wasn’t going to get back to his cabin before darkness settled in.

It was late spring and the weather was mild, so sleeping outside without a tent wasn’t a problem. Nevertheless, he looked around for a shelter and discovered what he first thought was a cave. It turned out to be a gold mining operation that he estimated (based upon reading the areas history) was over a 170 years-old.

Curious, Skip stepped inside and inspected the walls laced with gold-bearing crystal quartz. He could see where the workers followed the veins. He took the flashlight off his web belt and pointed it down the tunnel. It seemed to go on for quit a ways.

Back outside he found a long-fallen log and sat on it. Pulling out his notebook he made some observations. Taking his field compass from it’s pouch, he took his bearings and recorded them.

It was nearly dark when he decided to go to sleep on a patch of grass by the fallen log. He didn’t bother with a fire. It was a warm night.

Skip almost immediately fell into a sound sleep. He didn’t usually dream. And if he did, he seldom remembered what it was about.

That night.

“Another white eyes looking for gold.  What should we do?” Askuwheteau (Blackfoot for He Keeps Watch) asked the elder beside him.

The old man looked down at Skip, curled into a fetal position on his side. “His presence here is an affront,” Eluwilussit (Blackfoot for Holy One) said with disgust in his voice.

“No wait! Before you judge me let me explain…” Skip cut into the conversation.

The two old men stared at Skip – who was standing now – with thinly veiled contempt.

“White men have tongues like serpents,” Askuwheteau accused.

Startled, Skip looked down and saw his body below him on the ground, asleep. Trying to concentrate, he told them he wasn’t a miner. He was a park ranger.

The hate in their eyes told him they didn’t believe him. They both moved menacingly towards Skip who staggered backward in terror!

The next morning.

When Skip woke up his heart was beating so fast he felt like he’d ran for miles. It took him a few moments to remember where he was. He shivered in the chill morning air and at the memory of a terrible nightmare. He’d never had one so vivid before.

It haunted him all the way back to his cabin.

By the time he ate, and did all of his chores it was time to conduct a short hiking tour for a group of tourists. He forgot about the nightmare as he talked about the beauty of the area and it’s wildlife inhabitants.

That night he was exhausted, and feel into a deep sleep after eating dinner.

In the dream he was watching a group of white men carrying out bags of jagged native ore laced with gold from the tunnel. Two Indians suddenly appeared and tried to make the group of five miners leave their heavy bags and go. The armed miners pulled their guns out and shot the two Indian men to death.

He watched in horror as the white men scalped them and mutilated their bodies. Afterwards they left their bodies out in the elements, and returned to civilization.

“Let us see for ourselves,” Askuwheteau said, “if this man can resist the yellow rock.”

“Yes. The gods will look into his heart and tell us why he came, Eluwilussit agreed.

The next morning.

Skip woke up with vague memories of a nightmare, but shook them off by the time he finished eating breakfast. He checked his list for the days activities. Good. He was going to be busy with three tourist tours. No time for silly thoughts.

Skip’s biggest weakness in life was his insatiable curiosity.

Two weeks after discovering the crude mine he found himself in the general vicinity. He checked his compass and confidently set out towards the mine. This time he brought some supplies with him in a rucksack.

When he entered the mine he took out his flashlight and a small pick hammer. He carefully watched where he stepped as he went deeper into the mine’s interior. When he came to a dead end he turned around and started walking back when he saw the dull gleam on the wall.

It got brighter as he trained the flashlight on it…an exposed vein of gold! Someone had started to chip around it and stopped for some reason. The raw gold transfixed Skip. He suddenly had a bad case of cotton mouth, and licked his dry lips.

He loved being a park ranger, but if this vein went any distance he could suddenly become wealthy! Then he remembered it was a national park and getting a mining permit would be a problem.

He would have to work it himself and transport the raw gold to a refinery somewhere. With modern equipment, like a jackhammer, he should be able to do the job. He picked at the vein and chipped off a piece of gold encased in crystal quartz. It was beautiful!

A small voice was warning him about something. He ignored it, and chipped off another piece. That’s when he heard the mountain rumble and the tunnel began collapsing! He made it about halfway to the entrance before a boulder pinned him down!

His screams went unnoticed in the wilderness.

As It Stands, gold has always corrupted mankind.

The Time Traveler and the Devil

500px-Wormhole_travel_as_envisioned_by_Les_Bossinas_for_NASA

Salem, Massachusetts, 1691

“C’mon children, I don’t have much time,” the old man said.

As each child arrived they brought an armful of firewood and stacked it near the old man’s stool.

All of the children from the village gathered around the bonfire and waited for him to tell his story.

“There was this Time Traveler…”

“What was his name?” a five year-old girl interrupted.

Her 10-year old brother scolded her, and apologized.

“There was this Time Traveler who set out trying to undo the works of the devil. He came from a future that was fighting extinction. Between global pollution and wars, there were also fantastic inventions being created.

One was by a man who chose not to share his discovery of time travel with the other wise men of the day. He didn’t trust them. The devil had done his job well and his servants were legion.

Inspired by a desire to save humanity, the man used his invention to go back into history and intercede in events that led to the sorry conditions of his day. But no good act, or thought, escapes the devil for long and he became aware of this Time Traveler’s mission.

Listen closely now my children, because I have a warning for you. The devil has plans for your town. Innocent people will be killed by hysteria caused by the dark angel. Your parents wouldn’t listen to me today at the town hall meeting.

Now it’s up to you to stop the devil’s work. That’s why I asked you to come here tonight.”

After the old man, aka the Time Traveler, left Salem he went back to the future (2018) to see what the results of his intervention was. Nothing changed. The history books still told of Salem’s witch trials and the murder of innocent women.

It became clear that history could not be changed. The wrong-doings undone. His hopes of deliverance were dashed upon the rocks of his aspirations. The ability to travel back in time didn’t solve the planets problems.

Then he thought about the future. What did it have to offer that might defeat the devil?

It was a close call. The Time Traveler discovered chaos. He stayed inside his pod and ran tests to determine if life still existed. It didn’t. The atmosphere was full of deadly gases. Volcanos were constantly erupting, spewing ash across the planet.

A thought entered his head. What if he could get the devil to travel with him to this man-made hell? If he did, what would happen if he set a bomb to go off inside the pod? He knew the bomb wouldn’t kill the devil, but it would destroy the time machine. Perhaps the devil could be trapped in the future.

It was worth a try. There were no other options.

Back to 2018

The Time Traveler succeeded by taunting the devil. He accused the dark lord of being afraid of the future. He called him the biggest coward in heaven and hell. Finally, the devil accepted his challenge to travel to the future with him.

It turned out to be the one domain the devil had no power in. When the pod blew up he was left alone on a sinking island. An outcast once again. Without his presence among mankind, history reflected a totally different story.

As It Stands, fighting the devil is a theme I’ll never get tired of.