The Fickle Gods Own Bartender

600 words –

“I’ll have a scotch on the rocks when your done serving those sissies at the end of the bar!” a belligerent customer bellowed.

Willie the bartender glanced over his shoulder at the loudmouth on the other end of the bar while continuing to serve the two men beer and pretzels.

He’d seen his type before. A mean drunk. Rather than violently kick him out, which he had every right to do, Willie walked over to him and looked him straight in the eye. Something in his stare caused the rowdy customer to instantly calm down.

“You sure you haven’t had enough for the night buddy?” he asked. The would-be customer slid off the bar stool and muttered that he was taking his business elsewhere as his unsteady legs propelled him towards the door.

In Willie’s world, the bar was a waiting room for restless souls, not yet gone on to any reward, and not likely too either. The tortured souls who sat at his bar looked for advise and solace. They were confused and he found that most were looking for heaven. They came to the bar to learn about their next step in the process of passing from one life to another.

They told him their life stories over shots of tequila and whiskey; wondering why their drinks didn’t make the misery of this alcoholic purgatory disappear.

Then there were those carefree souls who laughed and partied through the endless nights, calling Willie, “St. Peter,” and begging him to escort them through invisible Pearly Gates. But it wasn’t Willie’s job. All he was supposed to do was listen and offer his two-cents worth while serving endless alcoholic drinks.

Long ago Willie realized his karma was damaged beyond repair. That was why the gods (there had to be more than one) put him where he was. A lifelong alcoholic who drank himself to death and was resurrected as a messenger between worlds. What irony. The gods sense of humor was impossible for Willie to understand. He was a hostage for eternity.

One day all that changed.

The god of chaos sent other deities spinning through dimensions and worlds unborn, in a burst of cosmic energy that tore souls loose from the places they were stuck. Adrift, the souls turned to space, eagerly looking for new landings. New starts.

Willie found himself on earth again. It was 1923 and he owned a whiskey distillery that supplied gangsters from Chicago to New York. As he watched the last truck pull out, packed with crates of his signature booze, Willie had a nagging feeling that the good times weren’t going to last. He was rich beyond his wildest dreams, but business was just too good to walk away from. Besides, he felt alcohol was part of his destiny. His rise to glory.

Willie was on to something. He just didn’t realize it then.

When the mobsters attacked his distillery one night he was killed playing a game of poker with his two bodyguards. His suddenly rich wife buried him quietly.

Dimensions shifted. Alternate universes collided. The gods fought for time and space. New worlds were springing up in far away solar systems. Galaxies groaned as solar systems stretched and contracted, collecting stars like seashells on earth’s beaches.

And Willie found himself pouring a beer from behind a long mahogany bar while listening to a sad soul’s story. He sighed because he knew it was going to take a very long time.

The gods shrill laughter echoed throughout the heavens, and meteors continued to scream through outer space on a mission to mock mankind.

The Feast

What a feast!

That top sirloin steak was the tastiest meat I ever did eat. Folks in the hills would be green with envy if they saw what I just finished packing down.

Beside that 16 oz. steak, I had a lobster, a baked potato, and some steamed collard greens with gravy on them. I followed that up with some rhubarb pie topped with vanilla ice cream. I have to say, it’s the best meal I’ve ever eaten.

And its the last meal I’ll ever eat. Crime don’t pay.

Go ahead jailer. Flip that switch.

I’m ready to meet my maker!

The Inmate’s Revenge

Drake County, Ohio – 2012

Construction workers were excavating a huge clearing next to a new neighborhood when they found a body. The badly decomposed corpse had its hands and feet bound with fragments of rope.

One of the workers called the supervisor over and asked him what to do. They both studied the corpse that was curled into a fetal position for a couple of minutes. The supervisor set up a perimeter with warning signs and secured the area before contacting his superiors.

Drake County, Ohio – 1854

The final touches were done and the Drake County Poor House was ready for occupancy. The insane asylum, completed a month ago, was located 300 years away, but in sight of the Poor House.

Local residents were pleased with both facilities, which they felt were needed for years. Officials were appointed, and staff members were recruited from the community. The mayor of Hicksville (the closest city) gave a speech to a crowd of two hundred people who picnicked afterwards on the Poor House grounds.

A year later, both facilities were at maximum capacity. When inmates of either facility died they were buried in unmarked graves, unless they had relatives willing to bury them properly at the county cemetery.

Three years passed before there was trouble at the insane asylum. A culture of cruelty had grown among the staff who took every opportunity to make the inmates lives miserable. There were never visitors. Family, or government.

The inmates very lives depended on cooperating and not causing trouble. The craziest were actually protected by the others. John Steele, who always seemed to have one foot in an alternate universe, was protected by other inmates.

The fact of the matter was, there were sane people locked up by their own relatives and corrupt courts.

One day Steele, who the guards called Daffy, got ahold of the cell keys from a dozing guard during lunch, and released the other inmates who attacked the rest of the staff!

The county marshal, with a posse, stormed the insane asylum and restored order by nightfall. After investigating what happened, the marshal had John bound hand-and- foot, and put in solitary confinement with no food or water.

Because his cell was in the same corridor as the community cells, everyone could hear his pitiful cries of hunger alternating with screams of rage!

Four days later, the guards opened his cell. Without water for the entire time, he died that morning. They carried his body out on a dirty sheet to the exercise yard. A guard was waiting with a shovel in his hand. They planted John, and promptly forgot about him.

Drake County, Ohio – 2012

Two county commissioners and their assistants were going through a pile of old maps laid out on a conference table. One of the assistants proudly held up a map and an old newspaper article.

The group converged on the map, and compared it to the present one.

“This isn’t good,” one of the commissioners opined.

“Building over grave sites is always a problem, but we’re committed to this project. The voters decided we needed a new elementary school. This is the ideal location,” the second commissioner said.

“You know we’re going to have to keep this quiet, don’t you?”Β 

“Yes. I’ll meet with the construction supervisor and his superiors, to come up with a plan if any more bodies are discovered.”

“What about the one we already found?”

“What body?” the second commissioner slyly asked.

It was left up to the construction foreman to quietly dispose of the skeletal remains as he saw fit. The foreman, Larry Freeman, wasn’t thrilled with the task. He knew it was probably illegal, but he needed the work.

It took years to finalize the project, but the finished result was what the community asked for. The first classes – K-6th Grade – opened up on September 2nd, 2014.

During recess for the 1st graders, one little girl ran up to the teacher just before the bell rang and handed her a green marble.

“What’s this Debby?” the teacher asked?

“Daffy gave it to me!” she squealed with delight.

As It Stands, Bad karma has a way of coming around.

A Cautionary Tale: Immigrants From Earth

MArs-Colony-Ideas-To-Save-Human-Race

When the first of the immigrant ships from Earth arrived on Mars there wasn’t too much concern on the inhabitant’s part.

There was plenty of room on the planet. The Martians themselves were a peaceful species divided up into tribes that answered to a Supreme Council. The leaders of the Council met with the earthlings shortly after they landed.

The Captain of the ship, Lance Elliot, told the Martians that Earth was no longer safe to live on. It was badly polluted and climate change was creating havoc on every continent of the world.

Volcanos, earthquakes, drought, flooding, and wars were killing millions of people every day Captain Elliot explained.

We are immigrants who just want a chance to live in peace,” he concluded.

“What of our atmosphere? It’s deadly to you earthlings,” one of the leaders asked.

That’s true, but we have brought materials, and the technology, to build a dome with an ecosphere we could live in,” Captain Elliot countered.

Let us meet again tomorrow at this place. We must go home and discuss this matter further now.”

The next day.

Once the translator transmission signal was established between the two groups again, the Supreme Leader spoke,

We have given much thought to your request. We have been aware of your activities for hundreds of years. We don’t want the same scourges to destroy our world. Having said that, we have decided to let you stay for a trial period of twenty years.

You will be required to clean up your own messes and not pollute our planet. No military weapons will be allowed. We hope you will be good neighbors, and you can count on us to do our best to have friendly relations.

Know this, we are two different species, and the chance for misunderstandings is great. We must be honest with one another. We will leave you now to build your new home. You can always reach us through the communications signal we have established.

Peace.”

Captain Elliot and his officers returned to the ship and gave the order to start unloading their supplies.

More immigrants continued to arrive on Mars. They were from nations around the earth. They all accepted the terms the Martians presented. Each new community selected a leader whose task was to maintain good relations with other immigrant communities and the Martians.

Deep below the Martian crust, there were three immense cities housing millions. The one thing the Martian leaders were adamant about was there would be no contact between themselves and the earthlings.

Only leaders, would meet with their leaders in pre-arranged spots on the surface. The two populations weren’t going to mix. The earthlings were never going to see where they lived.

Years passed by peacefully. The great experiment, as some leaders called it, was going very well. Better than expected. Millions of earthlings relocated successfully there.

One day, a dome community that called itself Little Italy discovered a network of tunnels just outside of the dome area. Two miners went deeper underground than was agreed on in the Mining Provisions for Natural Resources Act signed two decades ago.

The miners didn’t have to go too far into the main tunnel before they stumbled upon ancient Martian funeral artifacts. Statues, fine pottery, and solid rock coffins were all carefully arranged to celebrate the dead.

When the two miners returned to the dome they brought death with them. Deadly ancient spores clung to their spacesuits, even after the decontamination process. The next day when people started dying, the leader of Little Italy went to the nearest dome community and warned them about a mysterious sickness that struck them.

That warning was passed on to all of the other communities by their leaders. Within two days every earthling on Mars was dead, thanks to the leaders who unwontedly spread the invisible death.

When the Martians saw what happened, they weren’t surprised.

As It Stands, mankind didn’t deserve a second chance after destroying the earth.

 

 

 

All Aboard the Soul Train!

12ab3f46b6fa7e79f9bc3a2987addded

A dimly lit train station surrounded by darkness.

Flickering souls, like giant fireflies, waiting impatiently. They hover around the loading platform. A train’s whistle breaks the silence…

“Step right up folks! Have your holo-tickets ready. No shoving or cutting into line now,” an old man with a conductor’s hat on, called out.

The train took off into the vast darkness, its steel wheels humming like celestial music. Inside, two souls were deep in conversation:

“That sure was close,” the first soul, whose name was Rosco, said with a sigh of relief. “If it wasn’t for those extra points I earned giving up my life for those kids, I think I would have gotten a one-way trip to hell.”

“Don’t be too confident now. We still face challenges before making it to Heaven,” the second soul, whose name was Harry, pointed out.

“You’re right, of course. We still have three trials to face before getting our wings,” Roscoe agreed.

“My first ticket is to a place called Agincourt, on October 25th, 1415, during the Hundred Years War,” Harry said.

“What’s your new name?” Roscoe politely asked.

“Peter Archer, I’m a long bowman for King Henry V.”

“My new name is Albert McColloch, and I’m a bystander at the OK Corral shootout in Tombstone, Arizona, on October 26, 1881,” Roscoe said, after closely scanning his holo-ticket stub.

“Looks like you’ll be getting off this train after me if the stops are chronological,” Harry observed.

“I hate to admit it,” Roscoe said, “but I was a politician in my old life.”

“That explains your close call for getting the tickets.”

“I know,” Roscoe confessed. “I’m sure grateful that I qualified for the Karma program and got these opportunities to show why I’ll make a good angel.”

“Next stop coming up!” the conductor’s voice suddenly rang out.

Harry stood up and stretched.

“Agincourt!” the conductor announced.

“Good luck to you Roscoe. I hope to see you in heaven some day,” Harry said before hurrying down the narrow aisle to the open door.

Roscoe watched him leave and the conductor close the door. He looked out into the darkness and prayed that he wouldn’t run for mayor of Tombstone.

As It Stands, souls, and what happens to them, are one of my favorite themes.

A Case of Karma: Vernon ‘Comes Home’

image

The massive artillery bombardment was constant.

The Marine garrison in Khe Sanh was bombed daily – 67 days and counting. It was February, 1968, and the People’s Army of North Vietnam (PAVN) were intent on destroying the garrison.

Vernon Baxter and his Marine comrades turned back wave after wave of determined Viet Cong and PAVN soldiers. It was Vernon’s birthday – February 12th . He was twenty years-old and was having strong doubts he was going to make it to twenty-one.

He never imagined the savagery of hand-to-hand combat where every move could be your last. He wasn’t sure how many men he’d killed. All the days were morphing into one endless nightmare with no end in sight.

He heard Sgt. Borgalack’s voice and sighed with relief. He was a great squad leader, even if he was an alcoholic. He was going from bunker, to bunker, checking up on his men. He suddenly slipped into his sand-bagged firing position.

Vernon and Adam Butiskowski both looked at him, hoping to hear a word of good news.

“How’s your ammo holding up?” he casually asked, while pulling out a pack of Kools and offering them it to them. Both automatically accepted. There was a loll in the bombing – fifteen minutes now – and the remaining Marines were sneaking snacks and lighting up their cigarettes.

The 6,000 weary marines were facingΒ two infantry divisions, two artillery regiments and an armored regiment. Counting support troops, the North Vietnamese had 25,000 men.

It’d be dark soon and the bombardment would resume. Marine casualties were piling up. At 0330 hours, soldiers of the NVA 6th Battalion, 2nd Regiment, 325C Division, attacked the Marines on Hill 861.

Adam was killed almost instantly – bullets peppering his body like angry blood bees as a NVA soldier burst over the barrier with fixed bayonet. In a mystic moment they both ran out of ammo.

Vernon barely had time to draw his K-Bar from its sheath when the bayonet plunged into his right shoulder! The pure pain gave him the strength to stab his enemy in the chest.

The NVA soldier, Nyung Van Tron, let go of his AK-47 and rolled to the other side of the firing line away from Vernon. Pulling out the bayonet almost made Vernon faint. He was so weak and exhausted he could barely move.

Nyung was holding his hand over the wound trying to stop the massive bleeding. Flares were going off all around the perimeter and the two men could see each other by the reddish light.

The two enemies stared at each other. Both waiting for the other to make a move. When Nyung starting coughing up blood he knew a lung was punctured. He also knew he was going to die.

Vernon saw a funny look in the other man’s eye and watched him pull a grenade off his belt. Then a surprising thing happened. Nyung reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a 3×5 notebook.

His photo was inside. It was just two wrinkled pages crudely stapled together. The second page had a photo of a woman holding a baby. Both had writing in them. With a great effort he tossed the notebook towards Vernon.

Then he pointed over the sandbags, urging him to leave. Vernon instantly realized he was being granted his life. Summoning up all of his waning strength he picked it up, put it in his front pocket, and crawled to the exit.

Just before going over the top he looked back once and saw tears in the young man’s eyes. The explosion rained sand and blood on him.

The siege ended after 76 days with a reported casualty count of 205 American KIA (this turned out to be a false count – there were more like a 1,000 American casualties), and 10-15,000 dead NVA. It turned out to be the bloodiest battle in the entire war.

September 10, 2017.

Vernon is married with two children; a boy, and a girl. They are grown-up now and they each have a child. Grandpa Vernon and his wife of 45-years, Susie, are retired and living in a small town in Idaho.

In the last few years Vernon and his wife have spent countless hours on the internet researching the 3×5 notebook that Nyung had given him. Then one day Vernon got a break.

He read an article in National Geographic about a small Vietnamese village that was struggling in Ta Con, which use to be the Khe Sanh airfield, and featured a man named Hieu Nyung.

In the 3X5 notebook the photo of the woman and the baby was captioned, Hoa and Hieu Nyung. Vernon knew what he had to do next. A week later Vernon and Susie went to Vietnam.

They found Hieu, but his mother Hoa was dead. When they gave him the notebook he broke down and cried. He was desperate and his extended family were starving. Local officials had imposed harsh new taxes.

It took a week before Vernon was able to relocate them to another province. Then he set Hieu up with a bank account of $20,000 to build a business that could support his family.

It was a big chunk of their savings, but Susie never questioned it because Vernon was finally able to “come home.”

As It Stands, as a Vietnam veteran (1970), I longed to see more compassion among my comrades, who were scared and angry young men like me. Now, over a half century later, I’m finding Vietnam veterans who learned compassion in their old age.