Dead Eyes

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

Detective Bryce Nance left the crime scene after working it for two hours.

On his way back to the office he thought about retiring…again. He’d been threatening to retire for months. He was tired of waging war with death dealers. His brain was scorched with images of dead eyes, and mangled bodies.

Thirty years on the force now. Was he ready to leave? He wasn’t sure he wanted to retire. What would he do? He’d been a cop all of his entire adult life. He’d drive his wife of thirty years nuts, if all he had to do was piddle around the house!

As he filled out his report later he thought about the victim, a short oriental man who had both hands and feet cut off. The coroner said he bled to death from his massive wounds. No other wounds were found on the body.

It was the second body this week with the same wounds. Talk of a serial killer made its rounds in local newspapers and news television. When the second murder was announced the hashtag #HandAndFootPsycho popped up on social media platforms.

The chief-of-police, Dwayne Fitsimmons, got a call from the mayor who hated all the coverage the case was getting. Fitsimmons, in turn, called a meeting with his detectives and rank and file cops.

When he was done berating his men he let them go to work. Detective Bryce walked up to him afterward and asked for a minute of his time. When they got to his office and he told him that he was considering retiring, the chief rolled his eyes skyward and pounded his fist on the desk!

“You’ve got to be kidding me Bryce! You’re the best detective we have! You’re good for at least five more years. Is it a raise? I’ll give you a raise!”

“No…it’s not about the money chief. I’m tired of seeing dead eyes in my dreams.”

“Awww…Bryce me lad…”

“Don’t give me that phony Irish accent, I’m serious.”

“Is that the way it is? Then you might want to check with your union steward, but you still have two years to go before voluntary retirement is possible. It’d be a terrible thing to lose after all these years of service because…”

“I’m outa here!

Chief Fitsimmons lit up a cigar as Detective Bryce stormed out the door. He took a couple of puffs and shook his head. He had enough things to worry about.

Two days later.

Detective Bryce came up with a working theory.

Both victims were found in city streets. Not inside somewhere. Whoever committed the crimes must have acted swiftly because there were no witnesses. Both murders happened at night on what were busy roads during the day.

He thought about the fastest way the killer could escape the murder scene. After studying his notes, he found that there was a sewer opening just feet away at both of the murder scenes.

He theorized that the killer must have used the sewer to get away. The next step was to check out the sewer system, but he wasn’t going to do that alone. People got lost in New York’s historic underground tunnels.

He needed his partner and a guide.

Back at the station house he spotted Detective Jimmy Jones, who was recently put on the case with him.

“Jimmy! I need to find someone who knows the tunnels and would be willing to serve as a guide for us.”

“Us?”

“Yeah, I have a theory how the murderer is getting around. I need your help partner.”

“Okay. I do happen to know someone who’ll fit the bill. He’ll do anything for money. He lives on the streets. I’ll get the word out right now.”

Detective Bryce watched him go. He was ten years younger than himself. Still vigorous and ambitious. He was a good man.

The next day.

Detective Jimmy pried open the steel cover and with the help of Louie (their guide) slid it aside. It was after 11:00 o’clock and the side street they picked was quiet. Louie went down first, followed by the two detectives.

They all had flashlights and were waving them around in different directions. The detectives switched their shoes out for boots. Louie wore his usual black high top sneakers.

Detective Bryce pulled a map from his inside jacket pocket. The three of them had already looked it over before going down. Without a word, he picked a direction and Louie led the way.

They went to the sewer opening nearest the last victim. The detectives bent over and studied the ground. Detective Jimmy found the first droplets of blood. Their were dried out, but recognizable on the narrow walkway alongside the sewer floor. More followed. Then abruptly stopped.

Whatever had been dripping must have been covered up, because they lost the trail. They decided to call it a night after taking photos and making notes of where the blood spots were. A forensic team would examine it in the morning.

Four days later.

Detective Bryce was sitting at his desk when the forensic report came back. The blood they saw was the same as the victim’s. There was no doubt about it now. There was a monster loose in the sewer system.

As he considered the report his phone rang. Another victim!

When Detective Bryce got to the scene police had it roped off. The victim was a woman. She was missing her hands and feet. The pools of blood were still sticky and flies were already buzzing around the body.

He looked over a few feet and saw a sewer grate. He was back.

The media had a holiday with the sensational murders. They’d attracted national attention since the second murder. The third poured fuel upon the fires of speculation on who would do such a thing?

The next day, Louie and the detectives went down the grate near the last murder. A very nervous Louie demanded twice his usual fees, and stuck to them like glue. As they came to an intersection of tunnels something flew out of the shadows and scooped a screaming Louie up like a baby and ran off with him!

Both detectives pulled their service revolvers and gave chase. Whatever grabbed Louie must have been incredibly strong! They could hear his cries of terror ahead of them. Then they stopped.

When they finally got to Louie he was missing his hands and feet! His eyes were still open in shock. Detective Bryce stopped and kneeled alongside of him. He was still faintly breathing!

His partner had kept the chase up. There was nothing he could do for Louie, but he could help his partner. Holding the flashlight in front of him he trotted as fast as he could through the foot deep muck. There were two openings ahead. He stopped in between them and listened.

He heard a noise at the same time he was hit from behind, sending him sprawling in the muck. He looked up at the giant pale figure eerily illuminated by his flashlight on the ground. He was bald and had dead white eyes!

The albino horror pulled a hatchet from his rope belt and slowly approached him. Detective Bryce fumbled for his shoulder holster and gun. The thing bent over and brought the hatchet down, lopping his left foot off!

He could hear himself screaming in agony when the shots went off! Detective Jimmy was in a firing stance squeezing off careful shots! Then he fainted.

The giant staggered backward, but managed to stay upright. Detective Jimmy reached down into his partner’s coat and grabbed his pistol.

The thing was howling in pain and anger. Detective Jimmy fired again. This time the giant went down and stayed there.

Later on.

Detective Bryce opened his eyes and looked down at his feet. One was missing, but he was alive. He was in a hospital and his wife was at his side. She leaned over and kissed him when she saw he was awake.

“Jimmy?” he asked.

“He’s outside. I’ll get him for you,” she said.

A minute later Detective Jimmy came in with Chief Fitsimmons.

How are you doing partner?” Jimmy asked.

“Great. I didn’t need that foot anyway. So what was that thing that attacked us?”

An awkward silence.

“It’s body wasn’t there when we sent a team back down to get it,” the chief said. “Try to look at the bright side. You can retire now!”

Detective Bryce looked over at his partner and asked, “So who do you think took the body?

As It Stands, add this tale to the many others about New York’s famous underground.

The Cave Dwellers

When Terry and Bradley found the cave deep in the Missouri woods they didn’t tell anyone about their find.

The two teenagers decided to make their discovery a secret because they didn’t want their classmates, or anyone else for that matter, to explore it before they were done. The cave was vast, stretching out in a network of tunnels that disappeared into the darkness.

They didn’t go far the first day they found it. Without flashlights they’d be lost. Terry kept flicking his bic lighter to give them quick glances. The two long-time friends agreed to come back the next day with some supplies.

Bradley adjusted his backpack for the third time as they trudged through the woods.

“Damn thing doesn’t fit right,” he complained for the third time.

“Like I told you when we left, you just have to adjust the straps on it,” Terry said.

“I did. It still doesn’t fit right…”

Bradley’s words trailed off as they both saw the cave. A skull lay in the entrance! There was a brief silence as they both absorbed the shock, then Terry said, “Looks like someone is messing with us Brad.”

“I don’t know Terry. This is real creepy. Maybe we shouldn’t explore the cave.”

Terry’s eyes glowed with defiance.

“Nobody is going to get away with trying to intimidate me with a prop skull.”

Bradley bent over and examined the skull closer.

“This ain’t no prop buddy,” he assured him.

“Doesn’t matter,” he said, with a tone of defiance.

Terry pulled the utility flashlight off his web belt and looked at Bradley, “Well?

Bradley hesitated for a moment then pulled his out, “Okay, let’s go.”

Side-by-side, the two friends walked into the cave and turned their flash lights on. Terry took his back pack off and opened it. He took out a hammer, wooden stake, and a ball of heavy twin.

After pounding the stake into the center of the entry way of the cave, he tied the spool of twine to it. After he was sure it was securely fastened with numerous knots he took the spool, pulled on his back pack, and headed for the first tunnel to their right.

They flashed their lights at the stalactites high above them. They looked like dragons teeth to Bradley’s active imagination. As they continued on they noticed marks on the walls, and thought nothing of them at first. But as they went on the marks started looking man-made.

Terry, a history buff, examined one wall for several minutes, muttering to himself a he tried to decipher what the figures meant. Oddly, they didn’t look like any prehistoric caveman art that he’d ever seen in books.

“What do you think?” Bradley asked.

“I don’t know man…I’m no expert. Let’s see what else we can find.”

Curiosity was driving Terry forward. Bradley was grudgingly following, as his fertile imagination slipped into overdrive.

The both smelled it at the same time. The stench assaulted their nostrils. They both automatically pinched them shut.

Cripes!” Bradley sputtered.

“C’mon…let’s see what it is,” Terry encouraged him.

The tunnel opened up into a large cavern with purplish stalactites. Tapering columns of dark purple stalagmites rose from the floor of the cave. The floor itself was rocky and uneven.

The whole effect was like looking into another world. An alien landscape. Perhaps even a hostile one as Bradley dreaded. The smell was almost overwhelming! Terry noticed a large circle of rocks and went over to it.

When he saw the partly burned and chewed on bones, his eyes widened. Arms. Legs. No skull among the ashes. When Bradley approached and saw the contents of the circle he vomited violently!

It took him a few minutes to get his breath back, and to speak, “Let’s go man.

Terry’s eyes were fixed on a ledge above them. Huge hairy human-looking things were staring down at them. They had crude spears, and some were holding big rocks over their heads.

When Bradley looked up, he grew even more pale than he already was! Terry took his back pack off and opened it. He pulled out a vintage “Lemon Squeezer” Smith and Wesson revolver with pearl handled grip. It was his great grandfathers. It was loaded.

“What now?” Bradley softly asked.

Terry was looking up at the hairy creatures and saw that there were young ones among the adults. This was their home. They were invaders.

“We slowly walk out of here,” Terry finally said, waving the pistol back and forth warningly.

The creatures never made a sound, and waved their weapons threatenly as the two boys backed out.

Once they got outside the cave Bradley unleashed a torrent of questions.

What were those things! Who should we tell about this? Should we tell anyone? They might think were crazy. And…

“Take it easy Brad. Let’s just think about this for a little bit,” Terry pleaded. He paced back and forth in front of the cave for several minutes, then broke his silence, “I don’t think we should tell anyone,” he said.

“They kinda looked like Bigfoots,” Bradley suggested.

“I wonder if it was human remains in the circle, or one of their own?” Terry speculated.

We’ll probaby never know. They didn’t attack us as you noticed. Just the same, I don’t ever plan on coming back here,” he assured him.

I’m with you on that buddy!”

As they walked home, Bradley suddenly said, “Hey! We could be famous!

“Don’t even think about it Brad!” Terry growled.

As It Stands, the Bigfoot legend get’s another look.

The Abby of Little Horrors

When Ivan went to school Friday night he had one thing in mind; to get even with his classmate, Miles Newton.

Their rivalry had taken on new heights in the last week when Miles visited Ivan’s girlfriend, Celia, uninvited; while Ivan was taking an exam in the world spells department.

That was the incident that crossed the line.

There’s a saying among monsters, that if you mess with another lupine’s bitch, you better be prepared to eat silver. Touch a wizard’s woman, and there’s going to be hell to pay.

Ivan wasn’t as physically big as Miles who was a werewolf, but he was smarter. He was the son of a wizard. He wasn’t going to attack Miles without some help. That’s where the Jackson twins, who were vampires, came in. They were always ready for an adventure.

Because school hours were at night, it was easy to conceal oneself in the overgrown ruins of the ancient Abby that was their school. Dusky corridors echoed with the screams of monks that were brutally murdered by Viking invaders in dark days past.

Great stones still held up the roof of the Abby, unlike the outlying buildings that were in worse repair and roofless. Stars shone down on the venerable structure and it’s strange inhabitants like curious bystanders.

The creatures of the night that attended the unusual academy of learning at the Abby, were children of werewolves, vampires, and wizards. They were taught by their elders to abide by the laws of the school without question.

Generations of little horrors were prepped for their lives by savvy teachers descended from the most powerful warlocks, witches, werewolves, and vampires of lore. For hundreds of years it had been thus.

Things were about to change.

Ivan and the Jackson twins were waiting for Miles as he rounded the corner smack dab into the three waiting attackers. No words passed. The savage brawl that followed only ended when Ivan pulled out a silver knife and drove it into Mile’s chest!

The law was broken.

When Miles body was discovered, a general alarm went off among the students and teachers. Ghosts wailed pitifully.

Magic crackled in the air angrily. New dimensions opened up. Supernatural electricity darted though the Abby’ stone walls seeking culprits for the outrage.

Chaos was taking over.

The one main rule was violated – Thou shalt not kill a fellow student.

The Abby of little horrors depended upon dark magic and ancient spells for it’s existence. The meanings of the curses and spells were long forgotten, by the central message was always crystal clear. It was a safe zone.

No longer.

A very human emotion, jealousy, was the undoing of all the little monsters. They would never be safe again anywhere. Their universe shifted slightly. A new crack grew between the real world and the supernatural one.

The difference between man and monster narrowed.

As It Stands, the line between the supernatural and the real world is a very fine one.

A Monster in the Midst

Columbus, Ohio 1849

Conor O’Callaghan, and his family of eight children and a wife, left Ireland in a coffin ship bound for America.

They huddled together in the ship’s filthy hold with the rest of the impoverished Irish immigrants escaping the An Gorta Mor (The Great Hunger) in Gaeilge, Ireland.

When God’s wrath struck Ireland’s poor population in 1845, with a potato famine, it was devastating. The people’s only staple food, potatoes, were afflicted with a Blight that turned them black.

Starving peasants tried to eat them, but ended up vomiting.

When the O’Callaghan family arrived in Columbus, Ohio, they found a place to stay in the north side of the city. In the swamp flats where inexpensive land was available. Work was also available with the city.

Two years later, the Irish settlement spread to Franklin, on Naghten Street where the O’Callaghan’s had moved up in the world into a large six-bedroom house. Conor had gotten a job in the police force.

He was also an entrepreneur who sold whiskey, disguised as Dr. Talent’s Medicinal Tonic. He sold it on the sly, and never had trouble finding customers. After working out a deal with a local bootlegger, he produced enough product to ship to other counties as far away as New York.

The moral duality of Conors life never troubled him. He always saw it as survival. He’d do anything for his pack. It was that simple. He’d defied the odds, and provided them with a roof over their head, and food in their bellies.

In his three years of police service he’d seen a fair amount of violence and broke up numerous fights. He built a reputation on toughness and the ability to get things done. He even solved a couple of murders after being promoted from patrolman to lieutenant recently.

Conor’s political and underworld contacts gave him an advantage over his fellow officers. He was both trusted and feared.

Conor and his wife Aingeal, avoided the social life in town, perferring to stay at home with their family. Neither were brought up with any social graces, and they didn’t attempt to assume them as their financial status in society improved.

Because of their desire to stay away from most people, the O’Callaghan clan was looked upon suspiciously by their gregarious countrymen. But Conor had the people’s respect, if not their love.

In one unseasonably warm night, as Conor sat alone on his porch rocking back and forth and puffing on a pipe, he heard the keening wail of a banshee! It pierced his ears and caused him to drop his pipe.

Like most of his peers, Conor was a superstitious man, and believed in banshees, fairies, and leprechauns. He knew that wail meant trouble. Someone was going to die that night. He picked up his pipe and relit it.

He heard about the murder before he even reached his office the next morning. A crowd of people, with patrolman fighting to hold them back, surrounded a body of a man sprawled out in front of the general store.

His neck and face were slashed to meaty ribbons, as was most of the rest of the body. The victim had bled out, and the drying pool of blood was attracting flies.

“Sergeant Whelan! Will you kindly cover up this body, and have it taken to the coroner’s office?”

“Yes sir! What shall I tell that reporter over there? He’s been waiting to talk to someone.”

“Tell him I don’t know a damn thing, and when I do, I’ll let them know,” Conor replied.

He didn’t like the way the day started and it was only going to get worse.

When he got back to his office he sent one of the patrolman out to bring in one of his public contacts – a drunken gadfly who knew everyone in the city. He was easily located in the nearby saloon.

Davin McGrath was an alcoholic who was well known in Columbus for spending most of his waking hours in a saloon. His keen ears picked up on conversations like a well-trained hound dog.

He knew who was mad, at who; and who was screwing someone else’s wife.
He heard many interesting conversations in the saloons confessional, presided over by the bartender, Tommy Shea.

His worth came in the form of collecting those drunken tidbits in order to get a good idea what was happening in the small community of 3,000 immigrants.

When summoned, he passed on this information to lieutenant, Conor ‘O’Callaghan.

“Right to the point today, McGrath. What have you heard about a murder on Naghten Street last night?”

He took a sip from the silver flask in his jacket pocket and regarded Conor, trying to judge his mood.

“Nothing yet, it’s too early,” he gingerly replied.

“Damn! No arguments at the saloon last night? No fights?”

“Aye, there were a few tussles, but nothing to take note of.”

Conor handed him two silver dollars. “Let me know when you do hear something won’t you?”

“Aye governor!” McGrath grinned happily on his way out.

In the following two months, two more bodies were discovered. Both were attacked on full moons. They were as badly mutilated as the first victim.

The pressure from the townspeople to catch the killer was becoming intense. Conor knew they were afraid and they wanted answers.

Worse yet, he knew who the killer was.

McGrath showed up at Conor’s office late one afternoon in a strange state.
It took Conor a moment to realize what it was, the red-eyed old man wasn’t drunk. He was dead sober and looked like hell roasted over. He wouldn’t sit down when offered.

“Gotta leave today lieutenant! I was wondering if you could float me a small stake for old times sake?”

His was trembling nervously, looking over his shoulder and around the room as he waited for a reply.

“Sit down mate. What’s the matter? Why this sudden rush to leave town?” Conor asked.

“I saw something I wish I hadn’t last night in the alley behind the saloon. I just want to move on now, and I desperately need some financial help.”

“Tell me what happen Gavin,” he said, using the other man’s first name to sooth him. Getting up from his chair, Conor came over to him and put an arm around his shoulder.

“You can tell me anything. If you have any knowledge whose committing these terrible murders it’s your civic duty to tell me right now.”

“I’m afraid,” the old man whimpered.

“What did you see last night? I must know!”

“Your son, Aidan,” he said, with cracked lips dry from fear.

“What?” Conor let go of him and took a step back. “Are you sure?”

“I went outside to drain my pecker when I saw your son down on all fours and howling like a wolf! As I watched his body transform into a hairy horror, I must of passed out.

The next thing I remember was he was tearing into that man’s body!”

“You’re were seeing things. The liquor has finally turned your brain into mush.”

“Please lieutenant, I won’t say a word about this to anyone! I’ll disappear.”

Conor studied the old man, watching him tremble uncontrollably, with one hand out pleading. No one would ever believe his crazy story. Their family secret was bound to get out someday. But not today.

He opened a desk drawer and took out a leather wallet. Pulling out some paper money, he gave it to McGrath and wished him luck.

Shortly after the visit, Conor quit his job and moved his family out West to start over.

Aidan’s secret was forever guarded with the family’s new system to lock him up on full moons. They’d gotten careless in Columbus.

For decades the people of Columbus, Ohio talked about the rash of horrific mutilation murders. Rumors had it that the killings mysteriously stopped when the town drunk and a police lieutenant suddenly left town.

As It Stands, Conor was willing to do anything for his pack.

The Hobo and the Werewolf

Lewis “Doc” Shrivner became a hobo when the market crashed in 1929.

His descent into poverty was a reflection of what was happening to Americans everywhere. The rich suddenly became poor. The poor somehow got poorer. Hard times caused lifestyle changes.

Doc once rode in First-Class train cars and enjoyed the many amenities that came with it. The conversion from riding in luxury to empty boxcars was surprisingly smooth for him. He was always disillusioned with humanity in general.

His decision to “drop out” of society turned out to be a good one, and he found himself happy for the first time in his life. The months turned to years and he made a reputation for himself in the hobo universe.

After two years of riding the rails without being thrown off a train, he became a legend. His peers talked about his exploits with pride. He’d made many a fool of the security thugs that went after him.

Doc knew about, and was greeted at, every hobo camp from California to Maine. His stories were shared from coast-to-coast by admiring fans. Sometimes his peers suspected he was telling them a yarn, but still eagerly listened, enthralled by his mellow baritone and speaking skill.

One night in an Indiana hobo camp, Doc told a group of about twenty men and boys about a scary experience he once had.

“I was riding from Iowa to Idaho on the Central Railroad, when I met a strange man. Right after I jumped onto the car I looked around, as always, to see who else might be there.

“A big man wearing a knee-length fur coat was standing in a corner staring at me. His dark hair and long beard were scraggly and unkept. But it was his pale blue eyes that got my attention. They were souless. Like a sharks. 

“I said hello, and he nodded slowly. As I came closer his size surprised me. He was the biggest man I’d ever seen. And believe me, I’ve seen a lot of guys in my time. He was at least seven feet-tall and thick with bulging muscles.

“The bearskin coat he wore was greasy-looking and matted with dried mud and something else. He wasn’t wearing a shirt under his coat, and his dirty chest showed numerous scars. I wondered if he was a mountain man like I read about in dime novels?

“He still hadn’t said anything when I approached him and stuck out my arm to shake his hand. They call me Doc, I said conversationally, What’s yours?

I saw what looked like a flicker of a smile as he reached out his enormous hand (twice the size of mine) and engulfed mine…gently.

“I am Richard, Earl of Sandwich, late of England,” he said with a true limey accent. He sounded serious, so I didn’t laugh at what I thought was a silly pretense on his part.

“Suddenly he was serious, “Will you help me?” he asked.

“If I possibly can, I replied.

He stooped over and picked up a heavy-looking canvas bag.

“There were steel shackles for hands and feet inside. He dropped the bag and I heard the metal clank. Taking a key off a necklace he wore around his thick neck, he handed it to me. 

“It’ll be dark soon, so I don’t have much time, he continued. I’m a werewolf – I do hope you know what that is – and there’s going to be a full moon tonight. Before it comes up I need you to lock me up until daylight comes, and I’m in my man shape again.

Well, I can tell you boys, I was scared shitless. I couldn’t very well turn him down though. When I stopped gulping for air and calmed down, I assured the Earl I’d be glad to help. I’m pretty sure he smiled when I said that.

The hours went by fast and I locked him up as he requested. He told me he was tired of killing people, but he didn’t know how to rid himself of his curse. The padlock and chains, he reasoned, would contain him long enough until the curse withered in the daylight.

Just before the moon was totally full he said one more thing.

“I hope this works!”

The next thing I knew a snarling horror was struggling across from me, trying to rip itself loose from the chain wrapped around the two-by-fours lining the side of the car. It’s howls curdled my blood!

To my absolute horror, the thing broke loose and was working on the chains holding it’s hairy arms and legs together. I can still hear it’s howls of rage. Then it was free and looking at me!

“What happened next?” One of the listeners cried out.

“It killed me!” Doc howled with laughter.

The group slowly stood up stretched. Everyone was getting ready to settle down for the night when a huge man in a bearskin coat stepped into the light of their bonfire.

Could you help me?” he asked.

As It Stands, werewolves, or no werewolves? That is the question.

Destroy The Mirror

I’ll cut right to the heart of this warning. Time is precious.

Destroy the mirror.

The damn thing is sitting upright next to this letter, like a demon perched on the table. Don’t let that elaborate golden frame and stand dazzle you. The thing is cursed. It drove me to madness. Yes, I admit it. I’m crazy, but that’s just because of what I’ve seen in the mirror.

You would be too if you saw the horrible things that I did.

Time is of the essence. Still, I want someone to know my story. I’ve been unable to destroy this damn mirror, so all I can do is give fair warning while telling my tale. If you can, destroy the cursed thing!

My name is Dominic. I’m the only child of Caesar and Antoinette Debardi. I grew up in the family castle, DeBardi Hall, in the Lombardy (Lombardia) region of Italy. We had many servants, and I seldom got to see my parents who traveled a lot.

When I was seventeen, a small flat wooden box (15″ x 18″) and a letter arrived addressed to my parents. They were still traveling on the continent at the time so I signed for them. It was made of cherry wood and was quite handsome. The letter had the family crest imprinted on it.

I waited for my parents to come home. A year went by with no word. I sent out inquiries to all of their friends and business associates. I ran newspaper ads. I finally hired a detective, after the courts allowed me access to the family fortune.

Two years went by with no word. One day I noticed the cherry wood box, still sealed, laying on the bookshelf in the library. It was dusty. Half-hidden by a Jade Buda my mother brought back from Tibet.

I pulled it out. Moving a stack of papers on my desk to one side, I made room for the box. Sitting down, I examined it for a few moments, trying to see if there was a clever way of opening it. Like the trick beech wood boxes my father use to bring home from India.

As far as I could tell, it was sealed tightly with no way to open it. I was young and very inquisitive. In that way, a normal seventeen year-old. I tried breaking the seal with my pocketknife, but ended up breaking my knife instead.

Challenged now, I took it down to the basement where there was a workshop. It was filled with tools and workbenches cluttered with isometric drawings of cabinets, and draftsmen supplies like compasses, rulers, drafting squares, and pencils.

I put the box in a vice. Grabbing a hammer and a chisel that were hanging from a rack on the wall, I proceeded to whack away! I ended up splitting the wood to get at the contents.

Miraculously, it was a mirror, and had somehow survived my crude assault. A very expensive-looking mirror. I took it upstairs to the parlor, marveling at it’s weight. It was a solid gold frame and stand.

The mirror itself was cloudy-looking. Like it was very old. Created in the days before they made perfect mirrors. Upon closer examination I made out fantastic-looking creatures intertwined around the stand and base.

They appeared to be demons from an ancient culture. Greek? Roman? I wasn’t educated enough to know the answer of where it came from. When I stepped away from my examination I was surprised to see the clock strike midnight.

I’d been in the library for hours. Shaking my head tiredly, I went upstairs to my room and instantly fell asleep. When I woke up the next morning the first thing I saw was the mirror sitting on my chest of drawers!

My heart stopped. I’d given all of the servants the weekend off. I was alone. So how did the mirror appear in my bedroom? I threw the covers aside and scrambled into my clothes. It was still there.

There was no rational explanation. The damn thing should have stayed in the parlor. I briefly wondered if someone was playing a prank on me. Searching everywhere, I couldn’t turn up a jokester.

I carried the mirror back downstairs. It actually felt heavier than the first time I picked it up. That’s the first time I heard it call my name. In the following days the mirror stalked me! I would find myself staring into it and seeing terrible visions for hours.

I gave all the servants a month paid vacation, and sent them away.

One day, during a lucid moment away from the mirror, I remembered the letter that came with the box. I went into the library and searched throw my desk drawers. It was there, along with other letters I’d saved over the years. Unopened.

I’m not sure why I didn’t open the letter sooner. If I had, I could have saved myself a lot of suffering. The letter was from my father. He told me not to open the box. No matter what. He explained that the mirror inside had my mother’s soul trapped inside!

He was writing the letter with the last of his strength. With the help of a Turkish holy man his father had sealed the mirror in a box using ancient spells. He sent the box back for safekeeping while he sought a way to free her.

But his brief exposure to the demons inside wore down his frail body. He was dying and wanted me to find a way to free her. The mirror inside was from Crete, and was stolen from an ancient king’s grave. He admitted that they bought it on the black market. It was all he knew.

He ended with a final goodbye and wished me the best. You know the rest. I screwed up when I smashed the box open. The demons have been after me ever since. Wait a moment! I think I hear them in the hallway…

As It Stands, this is my warped take on Pandora’s Box.

Blood Feud

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Hunyad Castle, Hunedoara, Romania – 1453

They’re going to let me go today.

After a decade in this dungeon, my captors are granting me a pardon.

Apparently because they think I’m no longer a threat to them. Whatever. I’m watching the sunrise sneak through a small vent in the tower’s ceiling. It’s bathing me in its glow.

I heard one of the guards yesterday say they were letting me go because they thought I was crazy, and would never be able to contest for the crown. My royal blood was the only thing that kept them from murdering me.

This castle tower once held Vlad III of the Wallachian empire, called by some Dracula. He stayed here for seven years. I’ve seen traces of his writings scratched onto the rock walls. His broody presence stills stalks this hell hole.

I’ve held long conversations with Vlad the Impaler during the many nights I slept on the cold stone floor. He comes to me in my dreams and sometimes during the day, whispering strange things into my ear.

Who am I, you may ask? Just a bastard son of the noble Hunyadi family who restored this ancient castle. My mother died giving me life, and my noble father, King Albert of Hungry never officially acknowledged me. My name is John.

I’m a wart in the family line. No one wants to kill me, but I’m treated like a stray dog. And today they’re letting the dog go.

I know what my enemies see when they look at me; a frail old man with a long beard and balding head. They think I have no life left in me, and that I will wander off and die somewhere alone, unknown to future generations.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this, and I know it’s a good thing they underestimated me so much. It led to my freedom. It’s gave me a chance to wage a blood feud against my own family.

Wait! Here they come now!

One day later.

I’m not use to walking so much. My weary body is being forced to move by sheer will power. I know the cave isn’t far from here. Vlad told me where it was in a dream.

The cave was my key to immortality, and revenge.

I was crawling by the time I reached the entrance to the cave. It was partly concealed by bushes. If I would have been stronger, I would have stood up and walked in. Instead, I had to crawl in like a worm into the darkness.

I have no idea how long I crawled. Resting against a wall, I summoned my remaining strength. I listened. I wasn’t afraid. Vlad assured me the final pain would be quick, then I would enter the new royalty of bloodsuckers for eternity.

When I heard the bats, I sat still and waited for them. Vlad was right. The pain of death was sharp. But when I woke I felt like a new man. A strange woman sat next to me, allowing the cut on her arm to drain its crimson content into my open mouth.

Her hot blood surged through my veins, and I felt a power like nothing a human could even imagine. I could see clearly in the darkness. Everything was crystal clear. When I stood up I was dizzy for a moment, but it passed.

It was exhilarating flying through the night. When I reached the castle it was still dark and the inhabitants, including the guards, were sleeping. Now, a thing of the night, I glided through the corridors until I reached my uncle and his wife’s bedroom.

The guard outside their door slept with a sword across his lap. I couldn’t resist starting my feast with him. It was over quickly.  I took his sword, and cut his head off afterwards.

When I went inside I could clearly see their bed. I went up to the side my uncle was on and fed. Not too much blood, however. I wanted him to suffer. It was just the beginning. I had plans for my damned family.

Plans that would carry through future generations, and that would be referred to in the Family Bible as John’s Curse.

As It Stands, family feuds have long been the fodder of fiction writers.