Who Am I?

I’ve been around since mankind crawled out of caves.

Since humans gathered in loose groups and wandered the land, I’ve followed their progress closely. Listening. Waiting for opportunities. Knowing early technology would aide my efforts pitting one civilization against another.

I’ve been dressed up as a point of pride and honor. I gather rage among people like harvesting grain in fields of fear. Sometimes, I’m the first reaction. Sometimes, I’m the last reaction.

I come cloaked in national piety and greed. A harbinger of death. Men have died because of me throughout eternity.

Who am I?

The answer is war.

The Hit

Luke, a hitman for mafia boss Sam Giancana, looked up at the School Book Depository building knowing Lee Harvey Oswald was inside waiting.

He was told Oswald was going to try and assassinate President J.F. Kennedy as his motorcade slowly drove by in downtown Dallas. They told him Oswald was going to be the false sponsor for the murder.

Luke checked under his trench coat, touching the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle briefly. Identical to the one Oswald had. No one noticed him blend into the tree line of the grassy knoll.

He waited until the time was right, took aim and fired!

 


Murder Mystery

Don stopped typing and looked at the last passage he wrote about a horrendous murder in his hometown:

“The Burke family was slaughtered in their beds. Parents and the two children had their throats slit. No clues left behind. Investigators baffled about motive.

As the lone reporter for the local newspaper he had to write about the murder. He didn’t want to sensationalize it, but the editor insisted. One side of his brain said tamp the story down. The other said quit worrying and do your job.

The last thing he wanted to do was bring unwanted attention to himself!

 

The Line

Storm clouds gathering as the endless line disappeared in miles of concrete jungles surrounded by crumbling buildings.

The edge of reality and civilization. 

The line’s inhabitants dumbly moving forward, like lemmings on a mystery tour. Rumors of food and shelter passed up and down the line, giving some hope. Most were skeptical, having been in the line for an eternity.

The storm clouds never seemed to go away. Always looking like they were going to burst any second, causing a catastrophic flood where they would be no safe places.

No one knew if there was an end to the line.

(Author’s note: I continue to experiment with telling a story in 100 words. What do you think about this format?)

 

Hunting for ‘X’ In All The Wrong Places

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He watched the government agent loitering outside the bank. Waiting for him. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed the agent’s private number. When the agent answered his phone there was a loud explosion!

A CIA bunker somewhere in Virginia.

“All right! Listen up! As you know you’ve been selected to be a part of a task force to take out X. I will tell you that you’re not the first team we’ve sent out for him. Two others have failed.”

“What happened to those teams?” one of the new members asked the instructor.

“They’re dead. Does that scare you Adams?”

“No, sir. Just curious.”

“Good! Now that you know, keep your trap shut and listen to the intel I’m going to be giving you, and the rest of the team in the coming weeks. Your lives depend upon it. We’ve learned from our encounters with X. He’s an international player with no country or cause that we can tell. He kills, and steals, for huge sums. He’s a master of multiple martial arts. Speaks dozens of languages, and has no family or friends that we can find. I hate to admit it, but we don’t even know what he looks like.

“How could that…?” Adams started to speak, then saw the instructor’s frown and stopped.

“Our quarry is a master of disguise, even going so far as to using mechanical exoskeletons to change his height and body size. We were able to confiscate one of the exoskeletons when we discovered one of his hiding places in Germany. No manufacturer’s marks. Our tech team thinks he built it himself.”

In the ensuing days of training the instructor, Major Jim Langhorn a longtime operative himself, put the recruits through their paces, challenging them mentally and physically until they were exhausted by the end of each day.

The major taught them all he knew about CIA spy craft tricks and inventions. There were code classes and classes on criminal psychiatry. Every crime that could be traced to X was studied intently. Hours were spent with profilers. They learned that no clue was too small. Above all, they were taught to never underestimate their quarry. He managed to elude authorities worldwide for over a decade. He was a legend in the spook communities.

The six-man team consisted of volunteers from various Special Forces units from the Army, Marines, and Navy. They were all in the top of the classes. The most-outspoken was Army Ranger, Jason Adams. He was the de facto leader of the team. After six weeks of intense training the team was told to be on 24-hour standby to respond to any intelligence the CIA or other US agencies might come up with.

A week passed and the men were becoming bored and listless. Then the call came. Major Langhorn told them they had a tip X was going to assassinate the new prime minister of Bulgaria. They were briefed on the flight over and arrived at a government airfield in Plodiv at noon local time.

Adams met with the local law enforcement who went over the prime minister’s schedule for the rest of that day and the next. He was due to attend a gathering of friends and family for his birthday at a private country estate the next evening. By the time Adam’s team deployed around the perimeter and joined the local special security units, it was starting to grow dark. Whoever thought that X would appear, took all precautions, including bringing the American team in.

Every person at the estate, including servants, were heavily vetted. No strangers were going to crash the prime minister’s party.

A black shadow flitted from tree-to-tree silently. It snuck up on one of the American team and engulfed it! The shadow kept prowling and killing for hours. Walkie talkies and phones didn’t work. Frequencies were blocked. When the shadow broke away from the tree line and ran up to the house, no one was there to see it. The guards were dead. Loud music played inside the large estate building. People could be seen dancing on an ornate ballroom floor made of marble.

The prime minister was in the center of the dancers, happily waving a goblet of wine and trying to dance himself. No one noticed the red dot on his forehead. But when the bullet went through his skull the woman behind him noticed and screamed when she was splattered with blood and brains! Pandemonium broke out as the guests charged for the doors.

The sun was slowly rising in the gray sky as authorities flooded the estate grounds the next morning. Adams escaped the night’s carnage, but four of his team didn’t. They were murdered at their posts. That just left him and the Navy seal, Gary Stevens. As they flew back on a government transport the two men talked about what happened. It was a classic X hit job in spite of the extraordinary precautions that were taken. It seemed almost supernatural the way he eluded his pursuers every time.

“It probably won’t make you feel much better, ” Major Langhorn was saying, “but you two are the first team members that X didn’t kill on a mission. We’re not sure why he bypassed you. Do you have any theories?”

“I’m not sure,” Adams replied, “but Stephens and I had changed our initial positions to adjust to the terrain better. We both felt exposed.”

 “Meaning...?”

“I think someone knew where everyone was going to be deployed,” he suggested.

“That’s normally the case. You’ve studied the others enough to know that.

“Yeah…I just can’t figure out how he does it. I’ve never been part of a more secure operation than this one, yet it went terribly wrong. It just doesn’t make sense.

Major Langhorn, Adams, and Stephens stopped talking and sipped their coffee.

“You know, coffee usually wakes me up,” Stephens said, breaking the silence.

Adams was having a hard time hearing Stephens. His words seemed to be slurred. He was having trouble keeping his eyes open and an alarm finally went off.

“Something’s wrong with the coffee!” he stammered, and tried to stand up.

Stephens was already sinking to the floor unconscious. Adams tried to focus on Major Langhorn’s face but it was blurry. He seemed perfectly all right. Unaffected by what was happening to him and Stephens.

“I’m sorry. I’m usually more efficient than that. You two escaping made me look sloppy. I’ll hand you that. I must be getting old. Maybe it’s time I retire, ahead of the game I’ve played all these years.

As It Stands, maybe there is really such a thing as perfect crimes.

The Secret Admirer

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He watched her unlock the front door and step inside her house…for the thousandth time.

Ann Belloc, a struggling Hollywood actress, barely had enough money for her rent again. Her fashionable little cottage was costing her most of the money she made every month. The thought of going back to Oklahoma made her cringe, but also motivated her to keep trying. If only she’d get a break. Bit parts in commercials didn’t fit her interpretation of being an actress. But, so far, they were paying her bills…barely. She believed someone would discover her talents and career doors would open some day.

Bella Karpov, a young actor from Romania found Hollywood very inviting. He was offered parts in several B-movies the day he arrived in Tinseltown over three year’s ago. He had starred in a couple of minor movies in Europe before setting his sights on America. His part as a vampire in both of the movies had earned good reviews. After his last movie, “A Vampire in Venice,” he decided to stay in the horror genre when he came to America. One producer looked at him, and said Bella looked a hell of a lot like Bela Lugosi, whose portrayals of vampires made him a horror legend in Hollywood.

Ann was excited. She’d been asked to interview for a starring part in a movie. It was an independent film with a modest budget, but the director, Earl Acker, had earned his chops in the industry. Anything he was involved with usually turned out making lots of money for everyone. The movie was a remake of the 1936 film “Dracula’s Daughter” starring Gloria Holden and Otto Kruger.

She was interviewing for the part of Marya Zaleska, the daughter of Count Dracula. In the storyline Dracula has died and she hoped that by destroying her body he would never be able to influence her again. Her ultimate goal was to live as a human. Things don’t go too well however, and her dream was destroyed by a jealous manservant who killed her in the end.

Ann had no qualms about making her acting debut in a horror movie. She actually enjoyed the genre and grew up watching Dracula, Frankenstein, the Werewolf, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon on late night TV with her sister Belinda.

She had the script with her when she went home and planned on reading it over a TV dinner. When her VW pulled up in the driveway she thought she saw a man standing next to the tree across from her house. She turned the motor off and looked again. Nothing. Shrugging it off, she walked up to the front door and unlocked it.

He watched her unlock her front door and sighed. She was so beautiful.

Ann had two weeks to study for her part and to work on getting in character. Her cat, Hercules, a huge tabby, was her captive audience. When Hercules got bored and wandered off, she turned to the tall antique mirror that was her grandmother’s and continued her performance. When the day of the interview finally came, she felt confident that she could do the part.

When Bella signed a contract with Universal Studios he immediately bought a house in Hollywood Hills. Compared to the mansions in the area, it was small and an old. It had a history going back to the 1930’s. In those days it was one of only a few in the area and was known for its wild parties. It had secret doors and rooms. The large cellar was once stocked with expensive wines from all over the world. It was one of the reasons he bought the place. The native stone construction reminded him of another cellar in Transylvania when he was just a boy.

He was taught, from earliest memory that he was special. His parents were both vampires and he had somehow inherited a gene that allowed him to walk in the sunlight despite being a vampire. He was unique. There had never been a vampire like him before and probably would never be another.

Ann’s interview was so good, that she was hired on the spot! The next year of filming seemed to go by in a daze, as she shot scene after scene, coming home exhausted (but thrilled) every night. When the film was in the can, she was sent on a promotional tour to drum up interest in it. It was a limited release at first, but turned out to be so popular theatres clamored for it nationwide. Ann was not only very photogenic, she turned out to be a good actor too. It was a pleasant surprise for both producer and director who took a chance on her.

Ann was singing with the radio as she drove up her driveway in her new BMW. So much had happened in two short years. Her money worries were over. She was dating a brilliant doctor and was set to star in another horror movie. It was another remake. This time it was the 1932 movie, Island of Lost Souls. She was cast in actress Kathleen Burke’s part as Lota the Panther Woman. What really made her excited by the production was the producers got Bella Karpov on loan from Universal to play the leading part, Dr. Moreau. She was definitely a fan of his work. As she walked up to the front door she was still humming a the tune from the radio.

He watched her walk up the little cobblestone path to her front door once again…his heart beating excitedly at the thought of kissing her.

Ann met Bella on the first day of filming. He was sitting in a folding chair looking at his script, already dressed for his part.

“Hello!” she said walking up to him with a hand out to shake, “My name is Ann Belloc, we’ll be working together.”

He stood up and gave a small bow, “Yes…I know who you are. My pleasure,” he said in heavily accented English.

She couldn’t help being charmed by his old world mannerism.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying this – and I’m sure you’ve heard it before – but you really resemble Bela Lugosi.

He smiled. A reflection of the legendary actor’s mysterious smile.

“You honor me. I am related to that great actor who was born in Lugoj, Romania, not far from the small town I come from. My parents told me I bear an uncanny resemblance to Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó (his real name). He was a first cousin on my mother’s side.”

“How interesting! How do you feel about playing Charles Laughton’s roll instead of your relative’s part as The Sayer of the Law?

“It’s what you call show biz,” he replied with his enigmatic smile.

As months of filming wore on they became good friends. Her bubbly personality contrasted with his more somber persona in a good way. They often sat together at lunch and in between shoots, exchanging stories about themselves. Unknown to Ann, Bella had mind-melded with her. He could hear her thoughts from any distance with his supernatural abilities.

It was later than usual. Ann didn’t like coming home so late but she was invited to the producer’s house with some other cast members for an informal party that lasted longer than she thought it would. When she got home she noticed her front porch light was out. It was a full moon and she was able to select the right key to open the front door. As she stepped inside a body slammed into her from behind, sending her crashing onto the hardwood living room floor!

Then someone was on top of her! As she struggled with him a ray of light came through the open front door and illuminated the attackers face. He was her first agent when she moved to California, but she fired him after unwanted advances. Now he was attempting to rape her.

Miles away Bella stopped playing the piano in his living room and heard Ann’s fear! He got up and walked over to a partly opened window and flew through it in his bat form. It only took minutes before he appeared at Ann’s house. He saw a man tearing off her clothes, and screaming at her to stop resisting him!

Then Bella grabbed the man by his shoulders and threw him across the room. In an instant he was bent over the prone man and biting into his jugular vein! It was over so fast Ann only had time to sit up and pull her torn blouse around herself.

Despite seeing that he was a supernatural being, she wasn’t afraid when he came over to here. “Thank you,” she said with all of her heart.

She watched his eyes glow in the dark like a cats, as he answered her, “The show must go on, right?” he said with that mysterious grin.

As It Stands, when can you remember ever reading about a good vampire?

Taffyman, The Terror of Trenton

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Once, Trenton New Jersey’s claim to fame was that it was (briefly) the Capital of the United States. Since the Taffyman first appeared in 2024, that positive moment in history has been overshadowed by one of terror stalking the city.

It was two teenage boys that first saw the Taffyman in downtown Trenton, near the Mill Hill neighborhood where they lived. The boys were riding their bicycles home from football practice and it was getting dark when they saw a tall thin figure down the road beneath a street lamp.

It was dancing in a little circle while laughing happily. They slowed down, until they stopped about a block away. The man, they could make out his yellowish skin stretched across his round face now, stopped his dancing and looked at them.

For days after the incident all the boys could talk about was his eyes. There were no pupils. They looked like the soulless eyes of a shark.

As they watched he smiled and reached out one arm that kept coming towards them! It reached an exaggerated length when both boys stopped being mesmerized by the impossibility. They turned their bicycles around and pedaling away with all of their strength.

People laughed at the boys when they first told their story. Some wits even called the boys boogeyman, the Taffyman. Ditties like “The Taffyman can..” became popluar at their school.

A week later a drunk from Louie’s Bar bumped into the Taffyman. It was 2 a.m. Closing time. The drunk, Jerry Burkhart, wasn’t in a good mood because the bartender kicked his ass out. He took a swing at the tall thin man in front of him who simply moved his head back…without taking a step. His suddenly long neck wobbled for a moment then returned to its normal size and place.

Even drunk, Jerry knew something wasn’t right. The man’s arms grew like snakes and struck out, engulfing Jerry’s body! They wrapped around his torso and squeezed like twin Anacondas! Jerry passed out from lack of air. When he woke up on the sidewalk his ribs hurt. He still had his wallet, so whatever he ran into wasn’t interested in robbing him. When Jerry told his story he was confronted with skepticism. His reputation preceded him.

Thus far the early encounters with the Taffyman were relatively harmless. But one day a hunter (who fired before properly identifying his target) saw him in the forest dancing wildly and fired two quick shots at him! One bullet hit him below his right eye and he shrieked like a banshee! He ran away before the hunter could fire at him again. The hunter, convinced he’d hit his target tried to track him down, but had no success. He still wasn’t sure what he shot at, and idly hoped it wasn’t a man as he drove back to Trenton.

That night, unbeknownst to the hunter, Taffyman followed him home – loping in the growing darkness behind the hunter’s pickup truck. Taffyman could see the hunter and his wife through the front window sitting in reclining chairs. They finally turned off the lights and went to the bedroom. It was time.

Taffyman climbed up to the roof and went over to the chimney. He effortlessly slid down it and reformed in the dark living room. There was a puckered hole beneath his eye where the bullet passed through him with no effect other than a localized pain. It was enough to anger him. He moved confidently in the dark until he found the right room. They were both in bed. He went to the hunter’s side and put his rubbery hand over his mouth. His eyes opened in terror. He picked him up like a baby and carried him into the living room.

With one extra-large hand engulfing the hunter’s face, he couldn’t scream when he pulled his right arm out of the socket! Then the left. After that he twisted his legs so hard the kneecaps shattered as he wrenched them out of their sockets. He was busy twisting the mans head around when his wife walked in and screamed! There was a snapping sound as he let go of the man’s head. He got up and left through the front door without looking back.

The wife’s story made the murder go national as reporters from all over the east coast sought interviews with her. The authorities didn’t know what to think about her story. The coroner was perplexed by a few things as he examined the body during the autopsy. Rumors grew like mushrooms in bars, as people debated if the killer would reappear somewhere else.

After that, every unexplained murder was attributed to the Taffyman. It was during this period that old-timers say he no longer was seen dancing or laughing. His attacks became more frequent and the bodies accumulated over the years. Baffled authorities never gave up trying to catch him, but they were helpless to predict when he’d strike next.

They knew nothing about the killer. The newspapers and media picked up the derisive nickname Taffyman, after hearing about how the two teenage boys were ridiculed by community members after the first sighting. The name stuck.

The Taffyman’s decision to stay in Trenton was a curse the old city didn’t deserve. But, that changed one day after a casual encounter.

After years of revenge he was growing weary. Thoughts of moving on became more frequent. His anger was gone.

He was walking through a community park early one morning when he saw a young girl bumping into things. She looked to be about 12-years old, and was pointing her arms out in front of her. He watched her barely avoid a trash can and turn towards a pond where several ducks were calmly floating. She was heading in that direction and was within two steps of the water, when he shot his arm out and grabbed her by the elbow. She was startled by the touch and cried out, “Help me. I’m blind and lost!

Something turned over in his heart as he said, “I’ll take you home.”

No one seemed to notice the tall thin man with the little girl walking along, holding hands. She gave him her address, and told him her name was Bonnie. He was familiar with most of Trenton and didn’t have trouble narrowing down her neighborhood.

“What color is your house?” he asked.

“Brown, and white.”

“How do you know?

“My parents told me in case of an emergency. I wish I knew what colors looked like,” she added wistfully.

He looked down the block and saw a house fitting her description. As he walked her over to the house, he asked how she came to be so far from her home?

“I went for a walk, but must have accidentally turned on the wrong street. I have a regular route that I take. When I took too many steps, I realized something was wrong. I panicked. But thanks to you sir, I’m home,” she said while opening a little white gate leading to the front door of a brown-and-white house.

“Would you like to meet my parents,” she asked.

The smile that crept onto his round face felt good. “No, but thank you for asking. I have to go.”

“Can I ask you, what’s your name?”

He grinned playfully. “Taffyman. My name is Taffyman,” he replied, and went into a little dance.

As It Stands, this tale of revenge, and redemption, is a theme that goes back to ancient times.