Relentless

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He made a mistake in not finishing the job when he tried to kill me.

It was a tactical error assuming the bomb in the living room of my house permanently put my lights out. He should have checked closer. Gone through the rubble after the fire died down. But he didn’t, and a police dog discovered me (barely breathing) as the authorities were going over the crime scene.

I spent the next two years going through painful plastic surgeries designed to make my face look halfway human. In addition, I suffered through countless skin grafts for my chest, arms, and legs that were also severely burned. The end result, when they released me, was that I looked like something out of a horror show. But I was alive. Motivated by all-consuming hate, and the opportunity for revenge.

I’m going to back up here for a moment, and give you some background.

My brothers Will and Steve, and I, started a computer software company ten years ago. Against all odds our little start-up was successful and we were barely able to keep up with all the business that came in. We all worked endless hours to make the company a success for three years. By the fourth year we decided to add a partner to the company. He promised to take us to the next level in marketing. The fast-talking computer whiz’s name was Dan Bob Binion. He was already a successful businessman when he met my brothers and I. By that time, Steve and Will were married and homes of their own. I owned a house and had a live-in girlfriend. We sold the house that we were living in and put the money into the business.

Binion was a greedy little weasel that often struck me as a modern-day Ponzi. If it wasn’t for his marketing expertise we never would have brought him aboard. He did have a lot of industry connections and the Midas touch when it came to making good deals. In his first year with us, our profits soared over the year before. The following year my brother Will died in an auto accident. Steve and I mourned him, and set his wife Sally up for life. I remember what a tough year it was to celebrate our profit with Will gone. Binion, who always kept to himself, continued to open up new markets for our latest digital products, a line we started the year before.

In the eighth year of our partnership, Steve was the victim of a hit-and-run in the parking lot of our business building. Despite cameras, the police couldn’t find the gray sedan that struck him. When I found out what happened, I fell into a deep depression and stopped coming to work. Binion kept things going for months as I grieved for my last sibling.

One day I felt good enough to go back to the office and see how things were going. As soon as I opened the door, my office manager (Sally’s sister Trish) got up from her desk and led me over to my office. Closing the door behind her she asked me to sit down. She came right to the point; “Binion ran Steve over!” she hissed.

I was shocked but quickly recovered and asked her if that were true why didn’t she tell the police? She candidly admitted she was afraid of what Binion might do.

“How do you know it was Binion?” I asked.

“Because he owned a gray BMW just like the one in the video. He didn’t drive it into work everyday though, preferring his Corvette. I saw it once before, about six months ago. He pulled it up by the red curb outside and took a box out of the trunk and set it down on the sidewalk. I remember wondering what was in the box.

“You didn’t tell the police this?”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m afraid of him. He’s always given me the creeps. Especially when he first started hitting on me. I asked Sally what to do? She said she’d speak to Will and not to worry about my name coming up in the conversation.

“What happened?

“I’m not sure. Will never mentioned it to me.

As Trish spoke, a thought formed in my mind and I asked her when the incident happened? Her reply made my blood run cold. It was just weeks before Will died in an auto accident. Once that connection was made the ramifications hit me squarely between the eyes. Binion was taking over the company by murdering all of us. It was a simple but scary conclusion that made sense. It also made sense that I was going to be the next victim.

I stayed on high alert for weeks, waiting for him to make a move. Our paths crossed twice, during meetings with our department heads. That he could look me in the eye and smile, told me he was a sociopath (at the very least.) I changed my routines, sometimes canceling appointments at the last minutes. It was a deadly game of cat and mouse and I should have gotten the police involved. I thought I could handle the little weasel now that I knew his intentions. I’d stay a step ahead of him. That was my mistake. It was nearly my last one in this world. When that bomb went off I thought it was. But the gods of revenge didn’t desert me, they only disfigured me.

As I went through my surgeries I imagined that little monster was concerned that I could somehow pin the bomb on him. He tried to visit me twice, but was turned away by the doctor and the guard posted outside my door. When I was finally healthy enough to be released, I rented a room in a luxury hotel near my office and business.

That brings us up to right now.

I think he suspects that I know he tried to murder me, but is puzzled why I haven’t done anything about it yet. That’s good. I want him to worry. To have sleepless nights wondering when I’ll strike. Wondering if I even suspect him of trying to murder me? I want him to suffer. I’ve got a special location set up for him. It’s in a warehouse that I bought. It was once a slaughterhouse. It still has the hooks hanging from the ceiling where the sides of beef hung and rows of butcher block tables stained with years of blood.

I’ve made arrangements for Binion to be kidnapped today. A couple of friends of Will volunteered to deliver him to me at the warehouse. No questions asked. I’m in no shape to overpower anyone, or I would have done the job myself. It’s a challenge for me to even walk. I can’t wait for them to bring him here, and to see his fear when the blindfold comes off. I’ve got all the time in the world and a set of butcher knives Trish gave me.

What’s that?

Oh! It’s my guest! They’re bringing him in right now! You’ll have to excuse me because I’m going to be busy chatting with Binion as I butcher him!

As It Stands, revenge is best served…slowly.

The Butcher, Cook, and the Candlemaker

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When the Tranker triplets processed a kill nothing went to waste.

The brother’s, and the couple that adopted them,  ran a small inn offering food and a place to sleep for weary travelers hiking through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The rude log structure they lived in was two stories high and nearly a hundred years old. Once upon a time, the whole Tranker family lived there with other extended members of the family. But after the terrible slaughter of 1936, the only members left alive were the triplets, Bob, Barry, and Bradley.

The boys were taken in by a distant cousin and her husband after their parents, aunts and uncles were butchered like pigs one warm summer night. They decided to turn the house into a bed-and-breakfast. The boys were eleven years-old during this transition in their lives. The new man in the house, and their stand-in for a father, was Uriah Jones, a hard-drinking hunter who was also a crack shot. His wife Ellie was an excellent cook and house-keeper. She maintained a garden of vegetables, did housework, cooked meals, and assigned chores to the boys every day. There was always wood to be chopped and water hauled. The pigs and chickens had to be fed and cared for. The cow milked every morning. The two-acre wooden fence that formed a perimeter around the house and barn, was constantly in need of repair. There was no shortage of work for the triplets, who were sturdy mountain boys accustomed to hard labor.

With Uriah as a teacher, the triplicates became crack shots and excellent hunters. With Ellie’s help they learned how to cook a great meal, and to grow fertile gardens of vegetables and melons. The years passed peacefully and they were able to make a good living. Travelers came and went without incident.

The boys each had their own hobbies. Barry learned how to make long-lasting candles from animal fat that he fashioned into unusual shapes. Bob, who was the best hunter among them, was best at butchering kills. He made an art out of it. Bradley was the best cook, making simple mouth-watering meals that never failed to please people. Uriah and Ellie were as proud of the triplets as if they were their own.

Uriah and Ellie had a lot to be thankful for. When they had to flee Signal Mountain, Tennessee ahead of the authorities they weren’t sure where to go. If it wasn’t for one of Ellie’s cousins they would have never known about the “family tragedy” and the need for someone to raise the surviving triplets after that terrible night of slaughter. When Uriah arrived in the Blue Mountains the first thing he did was to challenge all the best shots in the valley. None of them ever realized they were competing against a WW I Army sniper with a record amount of kills in his company.

It didn’t take long for Uriah and Ellie to fit in comfortably with the small community. The boys however never strayed from the inn, and refused to go to local square dances and shindigs for the holidays. None of them were comfortable around people, but they all managed to treat guests well enough because there were seldom complaints. They all felt more at ease hunting in the rolling hills, forests, and meadows near the inn.

Truth be told, most of the locals weren’t very comfortable with the triplets. They felt sorry for them, but were also slightly uneasy around them. Dark rumors traveled along the local gossip line for years…rumors suggesting the boys might have committed the gruesome murders themselves. There was never any evidence of that, according to the Sheriff. But the rumors were persistent, as they tend to be when they’re sensational. It didn’t help that the triplicates were anti-social. One of them, Barry, had a lazy left eye that seemed to spook everyone. Superstitious folk claimed it was an evil eye.

Fall was making its mark and the leaves on the trees were a carnival of brilliant colors when a stranger from Tennessee showed up at the inn one day. He was a tall thin man whose baggy suit hung on him like a scarecrow. Barry watched up walking up the road, suitcase in hand and clutching his fedora against the blustery wind. Folks didn’t usually come to stay at this time of year and Barry frowned at him as he approached the porch. Just then Bradley, the most social of the triplets, came out the front door and greeted the stranger jovially.

“How kin I hep ya mister?”

“Lookin fer a place to stay for a couple of days,” the stranger replied while sitting his suitcase down on the wooden porch.

“I reckon we’ve got a spare bed, and a meal. You got cash?

“Sure do.” He pulled out his wallet and peeled off some bills. “Will that do?” he asked.

Bradley took the proffered money, and nodded. “Room upstairs to the right. Got a buck’s head mounted above it.”

“Obliged.”

He picked his suitcase up and stepped inside as Bradley held the door open for him.

“What’s yer name stranger?” Bradley asked him as he started up the stairs.

“Darren.”

There was a pause, then Bradley said, “Mine’s, Bradley. My brother Barry is on the porch, and my other brother Bob is out hunting for tonight’s dinner. Our folks are in town, but they’ll be back tonight.”

“Are you…?”

I reckon so, we un’s all look-alike cause we’re triplicates.

When Uriah and Ellie got home late that night, Barry was still sitting on the porch despite the chilly night.

“You okay son?” Uriah asked.

“We got a border upstairs,” he grumbled.

“So? We uns always have boarders. Ya know that Barry. Git along. Git some sleep now.”

“Don’t like ’em…” Barry’s voice followed Uriah and Ellie to bed.

The next morning.

As usual, Ellie was the first one up in the house making coffee and breakfast while it was still dark outside. Shortly thereafter, Uriah came into the kitchen and sat down at the head of the table. He was sipping his coffee when he heard someone coming down the stairs.

“Must be our new boarder,” he told Ellie.

When Darren stepped into the kitchen, Ellie dropped a plate in fright and Uriah rose up from his chair in alarm. The tall thin man reached under his baggy jacket and pulled out an old navy Colt revolver.

“I knew I’d finally catch up to you two murdering thieves! When you robbed that hardware store in Signal Mountain you killed my pa, but only wounded me! I’ve been hunting for you for a long time!”

Uriah lunged at Darren who leveled his gun and fired at him point-blank! Ellie tried to pick up a knife to defend herself with, but Darren shot her in the head first! It was over in moments. The acrid smell of gun smoke mingled with the freshly cooked rolls on the kitchen counter and the bacon burning in the frying pan.

The gunfire woke up the triplets who slept in the second bedroom downstairs. By the time they ran out of their room Darren had fled. The triplicate’s tortured howls of grief sounded like wounded wolves! The only two people in the world they trusted were brutally executed. Murdered while they slept nearby.

The triplicates knew the area like the back of their hand, and split up after agreeing to a preordained meeting spot at noon. Each had a hunting rifle. They all were expert trackers. It was just a matter of time before they found their quarry.

Barry bagged Darren less than a mile from the cabin in an open meadow. He was limping along and never saw the bullet coming. Barry tied a rope around his ankles and drug his body to the meeting place. When Bradley and Bob showed up they complimented him.

“Good shootin’, brother,” they chorused.

The three brothers took Darren’s corpse back to the barn and hung it from the heels with meat hooks. Bob got his butcher knife and began carving the body up into meaty slabs and hunks. Barry and Bradley built a fire and put a 55 gallon drum with water in it over the flames. Bob tossed gobbets of flesh into the barrel until all that was left was bones and globs of body fat carefully trimmed off the meat. Bradley took the fat and stored it with his candle making supplies. After 24 hours there was nothing left of Darren but boiled meat, which they froze. His bones were ground up into a powder by Bradley.

Nearly two days passed before the brothers agreed to contact the sheriff. When he came out with his deputy he immediately noticed that rigor mortis had set in on the victims, and they smelled real bad! Pinching his nose with one hand, the sheriff indicated they should step outside with the other. As usual the brothers spoke in dull monotones and a minimum of words while being interviewed. They told their story and said the killer got away. The following investigation increased the suspicions of some locals who whispered the boys did it again, and murdered in cold blood like so many years before.

With no evidence, they were exonerated by the law, but not by the locals who feared them. The triplicates got their revenge against Darren, and re-discovered their taste for human flesh. A taste they all developed, and hadn’t satisfied since they murdered their entire family all those years ago!

The Great Goblin Invasion

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In an age of magic, long before mankind learned to walk upright and come out of trees, there was a fairy dynasty, The House of Nim, that ruled in an age of peace and posterity.

It was an era where warrior wizards roamed the land and fought evil where they found it. Goblins gathered in packs and hunted unwary travelers, often just killing them for the sheer joy of it. Forests were homes for ogres who fought one another when there was no one else to attack. The clannish brutes leaders were smart enough to keep their subjects concealed in the vast forests, and not to go looking for enemies.

One of the largest cities at the time, Shambhala, was in the Kingdom of Rathan, ruled by King Auth. It was a trading hub and a crossroad for other communities. The city was surrounded by a great wall and had a castle in the center where the king lived with his large family.

North of Shambhala, were the famously fertile fields of the fairy territory ruled by the House of Nim. They stretched out as far as the eye could see. Fairy’s had been cultivating it since the dawn of time. Most of the inhabitants were farmers who seldom used their wings. The royal family, and select members of the court, not only used their wings, but they also practiced ancient magic to protect their kingdom. They considered themselves warrior-scholars who stood up to enemies, but never sought them out.

Towards the end of the third millennium, before the great asteroid struck and nearly destroyed the earth, ragtag bands of thousands of roaming goblins became organized under a dark sorcerer named Zargot, whose mother was a rogue fairy and father a renown goblin warlord. The combination made him stand out among his peers, and most feared to even be around him. His temper was legendary, but his ability to organize achieved something never attempted before; a united goblin attack against a city, Shambhala. As far back as memory served, the goblins were hit-and-run road bandits with bad attitudes. The times were changing under Zargot.

In the Kingdom of Rathan, the royal family consisted of three sons, and three daughters. All were related to the fairy community of Nim, but did not have wings. Their grand wizards studied under the mages of Nim.

Among the royal children, there was one who was a rebel. His name was Tarn, and he always seemed to do the opposite of his siblings, a passive group. His aggressive personality worried his parents early on, but as he grew older he demonstrated that he could serve in the kingdom’s best interests. He was the only child that wanted to travel so his parents indulged him and made him an ambassador to the House of Nim. He insisted on traveling there by himself, secure in his ability to defend against any attacker.

He traveled light with only a forest green cape, over his plain brown tunic. With a short sword, and a water flask in his broad belt, he set on down the road. Tarn’s knowledge of fruits and plants made it easy for him to live off the land as he walked towards Shambhala. He meditated as he walked, a trick he learned from his master at an early age. The road he traveled twisted like a snake through fields of grain and flowers spread out across the massive plain. As the sun shrugged and slowly went down, Tarn heard something that instantly put him on alert. The sound of grunts coming from nearby were headed towards him! He got off the well-beaten path and slipped into a field of grain. Raising his hands over his head he muttered an incantation of disguise and stood still, becoming one with the tall stalks that surrounded him. Just in time. The goblin army had sent out scouts and they were everywhere. Some passed within inches of him, unwary of his presence.

Tarn listened to their grunts and made out enough to know an army was nearby and moving toward his city! He fought against his natural impatience until he was sure it was okay to suspend the spell, then turned around and ran back home as fast as possible in the darkness. When he approached the gates of Shambhala he called out to the guards, “Open up immediately!”

The commander of the guard doubled the sentries and made sure they were all heavily armed with axes, spears, and arrows. With the goblin watch set up, Tarn went to King Auth and asked for his advise.

“What shall we do, sire?

“We must see how large this army is. Our defenses are set and we are ready, my son. I’m so glad you’re all right, and were able to come back and warn us,” the old king said with pride in his eyes.

In the followings days, thousands of goblins surrounded the city walls. Their numbers increased daily as the defenders looked on. Finally one day the sorcerer Zargot appeared in front of the main gate. He called out to King Auth to surrender and for his subjects to become his vassals. The king, surrounded by his children and wife on the main palisade, drew his sword and waved it high.

“Leave here, with your ridiculous demands, and go back where you came from!” he warned the sorcerer.

Zargot spread his arms beneath his black cloak and flew up to the top of the palisade and hovered in front of the royal family.

“This is your last chance. Resist me, and I’ll share your flesh with my minions!” he roared.

Tarn raised his bow and notched an arrow as Zargot flew back to his goblin army. When he let go of the arrow Zargot turned and caught it in mid-air. He cast a spell and the arrow flew from his hand with a life of its own, back towards the front gate, striking one of the king’s son in his throat! The queens wail of grief was drowned out by the masses of goblins screaming war cries as they ran toward the front gate and the two side gates at once.

The rear wall faced a forest populated with ogres. The stretch between the forest and the rear wall was the distance that a good archer could shoot an arrow. It was a neutral area avoided by travelers, and contained large quicksand pits. Even the animals avoided the area.

The goblins threw themselves at the walls, raising hundreds of ladders and scurrying up them like giant worker ants lusting for blood. The carnage went on until the sun set and darkness descended like a cloak over the countless bodies. The goblins breached the wall twice during the battle, but were turned back both times by counter attacks led by Tarn.

That night a council was held by the royal family and the kingdom’s three wizards. They knew they couldn’t continue to have so many casualties. Over half of the defenders were dead, including two of the king’s sons and one daughter who fought fiercely on the palisades with the warriors. It was decided that Tarn would leave immediately for Nim to get help.

He had to sneak out by the back wall. The other three were too heavily populated with the goblins army. It meant he would have to travel through the forest and circle around towards the Kingdom of Nim. He slipped out a secret door and stopped long enough to cast a simple spell that illuminated the areas where there was quicksand. Passing by them he entered the forest and set a steady pace while listening and looking for ogres.

He heard them before he saw them. The ogres were arguing about something around a campfire. Twice the size of goblins, ogres were powerful but slow. Their fierce appearance was enough to intimidate smaller foes. There was also one other thing about the ogres, they had an excellent sense of smell that was highly attuned to fairy folk and goblins. The same time he saw then, they smelled him and came to their feet. He backed up to a tree and cast a spell of invisibility just before they lumbered past him. Drawing his sword, and relaxing the spell, he came up behind one of them just as he turned around and plunged the blade into his massive chest! His death cry brought the other two over before he had time to disappear. One of them threw an ax at him and barely missed. Tarn charged the ogre before he recovered from the throw and drove his sword into his heart. The last ogre grabbed Tarn by the shoulders and threw him like a doll at a tree! Blocking the pain, he got up and ran for his life. The ogre soon gave up chasing him.

By the time Tarn got out of the forest it was daylight. His whole body ached, but he remained focused on his mission and headed towards the fields of grain that led to the Kingdom of Nim.

The mages of Nim were waiting for Tarn when he arrived.

“We know what Zargot has done. Know then, that he was once one of us many eons ago. But his dark side got the better of him and we forced him into exile on the Island of Narta. However, he grew strong enough in the passing of time to break the spell bonds holding him there. What is happening now is his revenge. We hope you and your people will forgive us for what’s happened. We go now, my fellow mages and I, to confront Zargot and stop this invasion of your city.

“Can I go with you?”

“No. The high magic that’s going to be involved would kill you outright. Instead, lead our warriors to confront and destroy the goblin army that threatens your great city.”

And, so it was.

The great goblin army was destroyed, and the evil sorcerer Zargot was defeated by the mages of Nim. But the story doesn’t end there. Tarn goes on to more adventures and becomes a legend in his time.

As It Stands, I just had to get my fantasy on here. Hope you enjoyed it.

The Last Patriot

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

Prologue:

Walter waited for a year for just the right moment to kill Captain Karl Gisborne.

One long year of huddling in bad weather outside of buildings, restaurants, and sky scrapers. One year of following him in taxis, and rental cars around the world. One year of trailing him when he walked in Central Park, and down the sidewalks of New York. Watching. Looking for that perfect opportunity to murder his mentor.

Today, would be that day.

Five years prior.

Camp Peary, Virginia, also known as “The Farm.

After graduating second in his class at CIA University, Walter Molter, did his finishing school at The Farm where he was taken under the wing of Captain Karl Gisborne. He saw something in the young man that he liked. Unquestioning loyalty. Walter felt like he was a patriot, and was honored to serve his country in the best way he could. The thing he liked the most about Walter was he did what he was told without question.

Captain Gisborne personally shepherded him around the international spook community introducing him to contacts in foreign governments and underground groups. He accompanied him on his first assassination attempt.

The target was a German politician suspected of plotting a coup against the current government with the Russian Mafia’s help. The current Chancellor was aware of his adversaries and didn’t want any of his men involved in an assassination attempt. Instead he called on his CIA connection, Captain Gisborne, to eliminate his enemy.

That task became Walter’s assignment. Two days later the German politician came staggering out of a local beer house with two friends after celebrating his birthday. It was dark and there was no one on the street as the three men laughed at their efforts to walk. They never noticed Walter step out from a dark alley and come up behind them. The silencer on his custom 9mm pistol made a slight puffing sound three times. Each bullet striking its victim in the back of the head.

Afterwards, Captain Gisborne joked about getting three for the price of one. “We must have standards,” he chuckled over a shot of Scotch. In that way Walter understood that “collateral damage” could happen, and it would be all right.

One thing Captain Gisborne recognized early on with Walter was he truly believed he was one of the good guys. One of the chosen to protect democracy wherever his country, and Captain Gisborne called on him to go. In order to keep him thinking that way he constantly indoctrinated him – assuring him the country was safer because of his efforts; and how lovers of freedom throughout the nation prayed for men like him.

Walter lost count of how many men, and women, he killed after three years. He lost touch with his parents and siblings and lived alone in a hotel. He had no possessions other than necessary things like clothes and hygiene products. He didn’t read magazines, or books. He seldom watched TV, unless there was a news event on he was interested in.

In Walter’s profession, there was always the chance things could go wrong and he’d get killed. It was a given he lived with. The law of averages finally caught up to Walter, but not quite the way he would’ve guessed.

He found a hand-written note that was slipped under his door when he woke up one morning. He recognized the script as Captain Gisborne’s. It instructed him to meet him in Central Park that night at eleven o’clock. Walter’s inner radar buzzed. This was the first time he ever contacted him with a note under his door. It was out of the norm and his suspicious mind chewed on it like a dog with a tasty beef bone. Up until now, it was always a phone call that summoned him.

He arrived at Central Park at six o’clock, giving him time to explore the area before the meeting at eleven. He was dressed entirely in black with a black watch cap that could be pulled down and had eye holes to see out of.

When he was within seeing distance of Cleopatra’s Needle, a red granite obelisk that stood 69-feet tall, he hid in some dense bushes without anyone noticing. There were just a few people lingering in the cool evening. A man and woman sat on a bench, staring in awe at the mighty obelisk that once stood in the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis in Ancient Egypt around 1450 BC.

Lying down, he made himself as comfortable as possible while keeping a sharp eye out for Captain Gisborne. The note troubled him. He tried to think why he chose that instead of calling. “Calls can be traced,” his suspicious mind suggested. It was after ten o’clock when Captain Gisborne showed up with another man. They stood in front of the obelisk and talked quietly. No one else was around. Beneath the old-fashioned street light at one corner, Walter could see their faces…and read their lips. A skill he picked up years ago.

“Why now? The stranger asked Captain Gisborne.

“He’s become a liability.”

“How, so?” 

“The Russians are on to him. I’m told they have enough information on his assassinations to start a couple of investigations with the French and the Saudis governments. They will try to put him on public trial, and it will be very bad if our “special unit” comes under the scrutiny of the American people.”

“Can’t we hide him? He’s a true patriot and doesn’t deserve this.

“A true patriot,” Gisborne mocked the man, “You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s no patriots nowadays. Just specialists. That bullshit went out of fashion decades ago. You just need to do your job, Clancy.”

Walter saw enough and got up on all fours, pulling out his 9mm sans a silencer. He watched the man called Clancy go over to a tree and hide behind it. He circled around him and shot him in the head before he knew he was there. The shot brought Gisborne to his feet. Clancy was supposed to have used a silencer. When Walter stepped from behind the tree Gisborne didn’t hesitate. He popped off a short series of shots and hit Walter twice! He returned fire and stumbled off into the nearby forest. He almost died that night. If it wasn’t for a Park Patrol officer finding him he would have bled out.

He only stayed in the hospital for a day before leaving despite doctor’s orders. He had one slug removed from his left shoulder and another passed through his chest without hitting a vital organ. A police officer was stationed outside his room, waiting for the doctor’s okay to interview him. He knew it was just a matter of time before someone came looking for him. Despite the pain, he got up, unhooked his IV and got dressed. The officer was talking with a nurse down the hall when he peaked out the door. They were still talking as he casually walked out and went in the opposite direction. He went unnoticed by the busy staff, and made his way out the front door and into the growing darkness.

As he was healing he stayed in a small motel outside New Jersey City. It gave him plenty of time to think about getting his revenge and what being a patriot meant in the 21st century. He thought about all the things Captain Gisborne had told him over the years about what it meant to be a true patriot. He found himself, to his utter disgust, comparing his unquestioning loyalty to Gisborne to the Germans who fought for Hitler in WW II. He thought about the Nuremberg Trails. He grew up believing in the American way. He was a boy scout. A quarterback for his high school football team. So much promise. Then he went into the CIA.

But today was the day he would get his revenge. Gisborne dismissed his bodyguard, a former Seal, and joined other mourners gathered at Arlington Cemetery to honor a former CIA chief from the Bush administration. After the ceremonies Gisborne went to his car, but the driver wasn’t there. Once a spook, always a spook. He realized at the last second that something was wrong as Walter slid out from beneath the Black SUV and pointed a gun at him.

“For America! For honesty and decency!” he shouted while pumping Gisborne full of lead. Before he died in a hail of bullets from the Washington DC police, he cried out once more…”For America!”

Newspaper headline the next day:

“CIA Legend, True Patriot, Assassinated By Rogue Agent.”

As It Stands, the question of what patriotism really means can become muddied by history and reality.

I Run a Ghost Referral Service

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Thank you for stopping by.

Before you leave, would you mind filling out the short questionnaire on the desk by the door? I’m always interested in how people hear about me, and my Ghost Referral service.

My name is Truman Dansforth, III. And, your here to ask me how you can meet with a certain ghost. Alrighty then, let’s get down to business. Please take a seat, as I take notes.

“The ghost’s name?”

“Cindy Mayberry.”

“Family member, or lover?”

“Well… my lover, but her life was cut short in a car accident.”

 “I see. And your name?”

“Jake Harriman.”

“I’m going to ask you to relax Jake, as I step outside the room for a moment to check on my poltergeist contacts in the next room. Would you like a drink?”

“No, thank you.

When I walked to my spirit contact center down the hall, I had an odd feeling about Jake. I’m a sensitive guy who picks up vibes all the time. It’s probably why I have such success with ghosts. I’m use to people being nervous when they come in. But Jake had an air about him like a wounded animal on a mission. Hard to explain.

It didn’t take me long to find Cindy Mayberry. She was stuck in the “in-between.” It’s amazing how many ghosts get hung up with earthly issues that weren’t resolved. She was sitting in the front passenger seat of a wrecked Corvette. She seemed glad to see me and knew why I was looking for her.

“Jake’s at my place and would like to talk with you Cindy.”

For a moment, I thought I saw a spark of anger in her eyes, but it passed when she spoke.

“Dear Jake,” she said sarcastically. “Take me to him.”

When we entered the parlor where Jake was waiting, I noticed a sudden coldness in the room.

“Don’t mind me, you two. I’m going to clean the fireplace and build a fire.”

“Cindy! How I miss you!

“I’ll bet you do Jake. Remember how you use to beat me up when you thought I was seeing someone else?

“Hold on! You were seeing someone. I followed you, and saw you get into a blue Corvette with another man three times in the last month.”

“Your insane jealousy was what use to turn me off about you Jake. Did you ever read the newspaper report about my accident? I doubt it, because if you had, you would have known that was my brother Ron. Now look at me!” she cried.

“I just didn’t want to lose you,” Jake moaned.

“Is that why you punctured the brake lines on his car? Investigators ruled that someone sabotaged the Corvette by putting holes in the double-wall steel tubing that led to the front brakes.”

“How was I supposed to know he was your brother?” he whined. 

“You could have asked! But no, you had to assume the worst and kill both of us!”

“I didn’t know you were going for a ride with him that morning.”

What do you want from me Jake?

Forgiveness… I love you Cindy.”

“I have to go now. Come back tomorrow, and we’ll talk about it,” she said, and nodded at me.

I had a roaring fire going in the parlor fireplace when I walked back to the spirit room with her. I could sense her unrest, and a simmering anger. As I wondered if she was going to share her thoughts she spoke up, “Are there any rules about getting revenge while in the “in-between?”

I had to admit that was a good question. I really didn’t think the negative vibes associated with revenge would help her move on to another level, and told her so.

“What about haunting him? He may even like my attention at first. In time however, I’m sure I could arrange for him to drive off a cliff, or something along those lines.”

“You’re still seeking revenge,” I reminded her.

“I prefer to think of it as justice, Truman.” 

The next day Jake returned. He was more upbeat that the day before, and I welcomed him in to my parlor. He looked like a man who got a good nights sleep and was ready to get on with his day.

After some small talk I went to get Cindy. She was waiting for me in a skimpy outfit. Just the opposite of the jeans and blouse she had on the day before (and what she probably was killed wearing).

I expressed surprise. “What’s this?”

“The haunting begins today,” she said sweetly with hellfire in her eyes.

Jake rose from his chair when we came into the room and approached Cindy.

Wow! I mean…you look different.”

” I’ve got good news for you Jake. I’m going to look different every night for the rest of your life. How about that?”

“In outfits like that, I hope,” he answered.

“It’s going to be fun,” she said with a lecherous smile.

“I can’t thank you enough Truman. Here’s you finders fee.

Three weeks later.

I came home late one night after attending a movie premier with a friend, and found Jake sitting on my doorstep. He looked bad. I unlocked the front door and invited him in.

“I’m going crazy! She won’t leave me alone! Day, or night! I just want some peace. Make her go away!

“I’m sorry Jake, but I run a referral service for people to contact ghosts. I don’t give refunds. You need to find a good ghost hunter to solve your problem. I know there’s a couple of guys in town that offer that service. I don’t provide referrals for them, however. I prefer to deal with putting folks together with ghosts. What happens after that…who knows?

“Oh, by the way, you didn’t fill out your questionnaire yesterday. Do you mind terribly doing it now? Wait! What are you doing? Put that gun back! I’ll refund your money and give you a name of a good ghost catcher if you do.”

The sound of gunfire filled the parlor!

As It Stands, contacting loved ones who’ve passed on can be a jarring experience.

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.

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.