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.

A Timely Revenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next morning.

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

It haunted him all the way back to his cabin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The next morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His screams went unnoticed in the wilderness.

As It Stands, gold has always corrupted mankind.

A Family Thing In The Attic

Listen to this story as master story-teller Otis Jury narrates.

Danny was born in the same sturdy brick house his great-great grandfather built. He learned at an early age not to go into the attic.

He was 10 years-old before he got the guts to check the attic out. It was a rare day. Everyone was gone. His mother let him stay home while the family went into town.

He climbed the narrow stairs leading to the attic until they stopped at a doorway. He turned the old brass knob slowly, barely opening it up. Sweat had started to slip down his forehead and he wiped it nervously away. Looking up he saw light pouring in from the skylights overhead.

The attic was huge. He wondered if it went the length of the house? There was old furniture and numerous old trunks lining two of the walls. A group of human like shapes, covered by white sheets, were clustered in one corner of the room.

Danny’s fevered young mind instantly jumped to the conclusion that dead people were under those sheets. He stumbled twice in his panic to get out of the attic! He didn’t attempt to go in again, until he was seventy-four.

His parents died in a tragic automobile accident. His sisters, Doris and Bella, were married and lived with their husbands in Sedona, Arizona. The house was his.

Danny decided he needed a hobby one day. So he got into his family’s genealogy. He was able to do a lot of online research. It was slow going contacting family members who were willing to provide him with information. But he stuck to it for a year.

He found it odd that there was practically no information on his great-great-grandfather, Bradford Niles Stormer, the man purported to have built the large house. He found paperwork in his father’s safe in the library that showed the year his great-great- grandfather paid to have the house built – in cash.

It was one of the first brick houses built-in Portland Maine in 1830. Bradford was a man with money. His family was from England. None of them went with him when he immigrated to America. There were rumors, in letters, that suggested he was the black sheep in the family.

As for Bradford’s time in America, there was hardly a trace of him. Yet, he had a family that started in 1833 – when Portland became incorporated as a city – according to a birth certificate he filed for his first son, Jeremy Kincaid Stormer.

Danny was able to find out a lot of things about his grandfather Jeremy Kincaid. He became a state senator and was a well-respected man in Maine. He had six children. Danny’s father, Percy Irwin Stormer, was the youngest of the group.

While pondering about his great-great grandfather one day and idea came to him. He should go to the attic and see what was up there. He was no boy now. Sheets covering objects didn’t scare him.

As he walked up the stairs they seemed narrower than the last time. He knew it was because he was older and larger, but somehow it made him a little uncomfortable. The door creaked loudly when he opened it.

It was still light outside but shadows were forming in the niches and corners of the attic. Danny went to a row of old steamer chests and opened one. It was full off oddities like shrunken heads and voodoo dolls.

He went to another one. It was harder to open but he finally pried it apart. It was full of books. They all appeared to be in foreign languages like Greek and Arabic. It was obvious they were old. The ornate gold gilded jackets were bound in leather.

Danny stood up and looked around the room and spotted the sheets. He hesitated for a moment and then laughed at himself for doing so. “I’m a big boy now,” he said out loud.

He pulled off the nearest sheet with a dramatic flare and froze! The thing he uncovered was something from H.P. Lovecraft’s nightmares! It’s misshapen body was half man and half monster. The white marble monstrosity gleamed in the fading light from above.

Danny had never seen anything like it. Still stunned, he pulled the sheet off another statue. It was part bull, and part man, carved out of brown granite. As he uncovered the rest of the statues his mind had a hard time accepting what he was seeing.

They were all grotesque and unique. He never saw anything like them in books or movies. When he got to the last sheet he uncovered a large oval mirror set in a mahogany frame. It’s glass was smoky at the edges, but the center was still in good shape.

“Don’t just stand there man! There’s work to be done!” the man in the mirror said.

Danny fell backward and knocked over the marble monstrosity. “What the hell?” he gasped, sprawled out on the floor.

“Oh get up! I need out of here!” the man groused.

Danny stood up, eyes bulging in terror, and stammered…”Who are you?”

The man crossed his arms thoughtfully. “I’m Bradford Niles Stormer. I believe you’re one of my descendents.”

“I believe I’m going crazy,” Danny said, and ran out of the attic, not even bothering to close the door behind him. He was breathless with horror and confusion when he got to his library.

His mind was trying to accept what he saw and heard, but there was a fog around the process. It wasn’t logical. It couldn’t be real. Yet, he saw and heard something. His curiosity about his great ancestor was peaked. He had to find out more about him.

He spent the rest of the day going through the books stacked neatly in the shelves surrounding the room. He was looking for anything to do with his mysterious relative. His search was unsuccessful, as he sat down at the massive cherry wood desk that was as old as the house.

Not willing to give up, he opened the center drawer and went through it carefully. Nothing of interest. He tried the upper right-hand drawer and the lower one. Nothing. The left hand door was locked. Curious now, he examined the keyhole. There must be a key somewhere he thought.

He went back to the center drawer and find a little tin box that he failed to open. A gold key was inside. It fit the drawer perfectly. Sliding it open he saw a small book titled “Diary of Jeremy Kincaid Stormer.” His grandfather.

He realized that he was hungry and hadn’t eaten all day. Taking the diary with him he went to the kitchen and put together a sandwich consisting of peanut butter and peach jam. He sat down at the table and munched on it as he read the diary.

His grandfather’s words chilled him to the bone. Bradford was a warlock. He hid the fact from his son for years. But an incident happened when Jeremy was only eleven years-old, that changed his life forever.

The newly formed township of Portland had a mayor and city council. A concerned citizen appeared before the august leaders one day and claimed Bradford had put a spell on him and his livestock!

The city leaders consisted of Puritans who believed that the devil, warlocks, and witches wandered the land victimizing unwary humans. When one of Bradford’s servants reported that she heard him talking to the devil, the city fathers decided action had to be taken.

So they came and took Bradford. His trial lasted one day (actually less than an hour) and he was declared guilty of conspiring with the devil to do harm to the local townspeople. The days of witch-burning had mostly passed, but there were still cases reported in the New England area.

On a chilly morning the town father’s dragged Bradford out of the jail before most of the town was awake. They bound him tightly with a hemp rope attached to bags of heavy rocks.

Jeremy was in the small group that witnessed his father taken out to the center of the river and tossed overboard without so much as a word. The four men rowed back to shore and left without talking to anyone.

Jeremy, whose mother had died from consumption, a year before, was raised by his Uncle Harold, Bradford’s brother. It turned out that Harold was a warlock too. The night before Bradford was executed Harold visited him in the prison. The two men chanted throughout the night.

When young Jeremy and his uncle Harold returned to the house after Bradford’s death they went up to the attic. Harold explained that the mirror in the center of the room was magical and he must not ever talk about it. It had to be kept secret.

He explained that his father’s soul was in the mirror waiting to be released into another body. He made sure to impress Jeremy with importance of the secret and how it could cost him his life if he did.

Harold assured him that he would find the right spell to release his father. The magic that the two conjured up that last night, was ancient and was a last-ditch attempt to save Bradford. Now it was up to Harold to find the right spell to free him. The rare books in the steamer trunk were collected by Harold in his search to help his brother.

But Harold was in poor health and one day fell of his horse. He was dead before he hit the ground with a heart attack.

Danny put the diary down after finishing it. The last entry was made on the day Harold died, and simply said…”I’m trying brother.

So there it was. His great-great grandfather was more than just a dark sheep in the family. He was a warlock. His son Jeremy didn’t want anything to do with black magic and covered the mirror up, along with the strange statues he collected while traveling abroad.

Danny had trouble going to sleep that night. When he did fall asleep he had terrible nightmares that covered him in sweat. There was a lurking evil in the house. It lived in the attic.

When he woke in the morning he skipped his normal routine of showering and shaving and went right to the attic. As he went up the stairs he could only think about destroying the mirror and the thing inside of it.

Just before he reached the landing a rush of wind came out of the open door and caught him off guard! He lost his balance and tumbled backwards and down the stairs. He suffered massive trauma to his head and bled out on the floor where his crumpled body lay.

His oldest sister Bella found him two days later when she came by to visit. After the funeral Bella and Doris found the diary, but thought nothing of it, putting it in a box containing the rest of the contents of the desk in the library.

They went into the attic and found the mirror and statues still uncovered. As Bella prepared to cover the mirror with a nearby sheet, a voice caught her off guard, “Don’t be alarmed ladies! I just need a little help!”

Their screams echoed through the whole house!

As It Stands, it was a family thing.

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.

Hot Tubs In Hell and Other Guilty Pleasures

“Those boobs up top sure got things wrong preaching about how bad hell would be,” Anton said between sips of Bushnell’s Irish whiskey.

“Goes to show you the power of propaganda,” Damon added.

The two lost souls, as they laughingly called themselves, got up from their table and left the waiter a big tip. As they strolled down the well-paved main street they decided it was time to take a hot tub and to smoke some killer Purple Kush.

Hot tubs in hell are huge. The two joined a group of ten people passing LSD tabs around and singing songs of freedom. The multi-colored lights in the hot tub danced off the faces of the happy revelers.

Anton passed a blunt to Damon, who took a big hit, and passed it on. Jim Morrison was singing the long version of The End while making suggestive sexual moves with his microphone.

Janis Joplin was explaining why hell always got such a bad rap to a group of eager-eyed rock and roll fans. In a nearby wading/walking-pool the size of New Jersey, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler kept looking over their shoulders in fear while paddling around the perimeter.

“I’m not sure I should be in the same room with those two murderous dictators,” Anton ventured. “I was no angel, but…”

“I get your point,” Damon replied. “We need to find someone who can explain this oddity. Neither of us are mass killers. A drunk, and a politician, but not killers.

An hour later, Anton and Damon entered through the bat-wing doors of the most popular bar around – The Hot Spot. Both bellied up to the bar and called for Scotch.

Billie Holiday, with Jelly Roll Morton on the piano, were performing Lady Sings The Blues on a small stage in the rear of the bar. The dance floor was expansive, providing room for fifty gyrating couples.

Damon noticed Friedrich Nietzsche sitting at the end of the bar and nudged Anton, “There’s the guy that might have the answer to our question,” he said. They got up and approached Nietzsche cautiously.

“Excuse us sir, but we could not help noticing you. We are both big fans of your work and have a question for you.” Nietzsche narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “Yes…”

“How is it great thinkers like yourself, or just common guys like us, are in the same place as mass murders like Hitler and Mussolini?”

Nietzsche did something he seldom did up above, he smiled.

“It’s my pleasure to tell you,” he said, and stood up facing them.

“First I must tell you there are many theories why everyone ended up in the same place. Mine, a well-thought out one, centers on the fact that I was right about there being no God, or Devil. 

“Second, there is no heaven (with harp-playing angels and golden gates), but there sure the heck is a hell. That’s why we’re down here together – regardless of what we did above. But there’s no devil directing activities. Just a lot of people who never learned to get along together when they were alive.”

“Finally, and this is the one that’ll rock your world, you fools were in heaven! That’s right. That time you had alive…that was it, my inquiring friends. You were in Heaven.”

As It Stands, just adding to the many ongoing conversations about what’ll happen when we die.

Haunting Melodies

Peter started collecting musical instruments used by famous deceased musicians when he became rich on Wall Street.

His ongoing collection, not open to the public because some of it was stolen, was his pride and joy. Only people he trusted implicitly got to visit his Music Room, located in his 19-bedroom mansion, in upstate New York.

Peter was a mystery man with no known surviving family members. He was a self-made man, and a wizard. His ability to predict when stocks would go up, or down, or even the future, came from long years of training by the Coven that raised him.

When the witches sent him out on his own he was 21-years old and savvy in the ways of the world. Getting rich was easy. Entertaining himself was more difficult at first. Until he discovered a love of music.

It became all-consuming. He went to operas and rock concerts for years before developing a passion for musical instruments.

Then one day a Wall Street trader acquaintance asked him if he would be interested in buying a rare piano?

How rare?” Peter asked.

“It’s been hidden for seventy-five years, and it’s owner no longer wants it. It’s the last Grand Piano Sergei Rachmaninov played on Russia soil before the Leninist regime seized his estate near Tambov in 1917, ” his acquaintance explained.

“He moved with his wife and two daughters to Denmark before relocating to New York the following year. Left behind was this European-made Grand Piano hidden by a first cousin who later smuggled it into the United States, and a safe warehouse,” he added.

“It’s condition?”

“Excellent. An expert has kept it in tune.”

“Why sell it now?”

The owner is old, and perhaps getting a little senile according to his grandchildren. It seems he’s been visiting the warehouse for years “listening to Rachmaninov play,” and telling his grandson that the famous musician is the one playing the Grand Piano. 

Peter smiled. the biggest smile he had for decades and asked, “How do I get this piano? Money is no problem.”

To Peter’s delight, the story was true. It wasn’t long before he was striking up stimulating conversations with Sergei. It didn’t take him long to go in search of other famous musical instruments whose owners had died.

He worked with all of his financial and magical connections to hunt down the objects of his newly discovered hobby.

His next acquisition was Jimi Hendrix’s favorite black 1968 Fender Stratocaster with a maple neck. Despite playing many different guitars, including some Gibson Flying Vs and Les Paul Customs, the Stratocaster was his baby. He was buried with it in 1970 after dying from a drug overdose.

It took black magic to retrieve the guitar, and to entice Jimi to play it once again.

Keith Moon’s second drum kit – A Ludwick Black Oyster Super Classic – with 2 toms and a bass drum plus, the previously lost – but now found – original snare drum, cost Peter two million dollars.

Moon, who died in 1978, was another restless spirit recruited by Peter, to play his favorite instrument. Peter found that he had a particular fondness of drums and managed to buy Jon Bonham’s first drum set – a four-piece Trixon in Sparkling Red.

Bonham, who died in 1980, got along great with Moon, and the two played competing solos deep into the night.

The real score in drums came when Peter had to pay a thief to steal Buddy Rich’s original drum setup.  It included a 14×24 bass drum (with a moleskin patch and a wooden beater), a 9×13 rack tom, two 16×16 floor toms, and a 5×14 snare drum.

His Avedis Zildjian cymbals, which included a 20″ ride, two 18″ crashes, a pair of 14″ hi-hats, and a 6″ splash, shimmered as Peter looked at them. The set had his preferred wood-tip sticks—slightly heavier than a pair of 7As.

Buddy, who died of heart disease in 1987, completed the trio of drum-playing ghosts. To Peter, the cacophony of noise they all made was the music of the spheres.

All he needed was a brass trumpet. He found just the right one made by Henri Selmer of Paris for Louis Armstrong. Of course, he got Louis, who died in 1971, to play it.

Peter eventually decided to share his unearthly collection and invited special friends to spend the night and hear the poltergeists play their favorite instruments until the dawn.

As It Stands, this tale evolved from a conversation with a friend about haunting melodies from beyond the grave.