The Man In The Tower

Little House Kennebunk Maine 1875 Second Empire

1865 Milford, Ohio

When Aaron was born, one of the midwives ran out of the room screaming.

The other women in attendance looked at each other grimly as they wrapped up the howling infant. The mother, Betsy Livingstone, was so weak, and had lost so much blood during the birthing ordeal, the women were worried she would die. She held on for three days. Long enough to see her deformed son’s face. She touched his cleft palate tenderly and ran her fingers over the smear of a nose (two holes actually) and traced the deep creases on the left side of his face that stretched his eye into a slit. He didn’t have ears, just holes where they should have been.

On the last day of her life she dictated a letter to her sister giving her all of her possessions and tasking her with raising the baby boy (she named him Charles after his father who was away fighting Confederates). In the event the baby’s father never returned, she would also get the deed to the three-story house built-in grand Italianate Victorian style. It was the biggest and grandest house in the county. In addition, it had a special tower that rose 5 stories from the basement to the observation room at the top.

Charles was raised away from prying eyes. Only family, friends, and servants ever saw him. As a young boy he wandered through the great house with its lavish furnishings and rooms full of paintings, playing secret little games and living in an alternate world. One where he was accepted despite his terrible appearance, and could play with other children…and things, without censor.

Private tutors taught him to read and write at an early age. He was a fast learner and quickly graduated to math, physics, the social sciences, and chemistry. His aunt Loretta saw to it that Charles always had the best she could provide for him. His father never came home from the war. One of his comrades came by one day and said he was with him when he died at Gettysburg, and gave Loretta his few belongings. She, in turn, made out a will giving everything to Charles when she died. She never considered getting married. She knew what suitors would think when they saw Charles. They’d treat him like a freak.

As the year’s rambled on in a slow but livable pace, Loretta and Charles were inseparable. She was the one person in the world who didn’t cringe when she looked at him. He always saw love in her eyes. Unlike the fear, loathing, and suspicion he noticed in others. Doctors. Tutors. Servants. They all stared at him when they thought he wasn’t looking. He’d caught them all numerous times, and it made him feel like an exotic creature that should be displayed in a zoo.

Charles’ world almost came to an end when Loretta died from the consumption. He refused to eat and had her body displayed in a coffin in the parlor for a week. Never leaving her side. When the family stepped in and took care of the burial arrangements he sat in the top of the tower until the funeral was over, and everyone went home. All but one of his servants elected to leave. Old John lived in the house when Betsy gave birth to Charles and was content to stay with him as long as he lived. Grief became a constant companion, and after a while it descended into anger and bitterness with the world that rejected him because of his looks. He still managed to find a place in his heart for his aging servant who made him meals and did light cleanup. When Old John was too weak to walk up the twisting staircase to the top of the tower where Charles spent most of his time, he came up with a dumb-waiter system that spared him from dutifully hobbling up it everyday. When the day came that Old John couldn’t get out of his bed, Charles stayed by his side and nursed him until he took his last breath. Because he had no known relatives, Charles buried him in a plot in the back of the house where Loretta, and his mother and father were resting. Only a priest attended the funeral. Two young men Charles paid to dig the grave and cover it up afterwards, stood nearby sweating in the heat of the hot Ohio afternoon.

After that, it was just Charles. He paid a nearby farmer’s 11-years-old son to go into town and get him supplies once a month. Money was one thing Charles didn’t have to worry about. The family safe contained the savings from two generations of Livingstone’s who had invested wisely and never trusted a bank. Gold bars. Assorted Bank notes. Golden Certificates backed by the government, cash, and heirloom jewelry was his insurance against poverty. And from going out into a hostile world.

The only time he left the house was at dusk when he would wander through the nearby forest for hours. Long into the night. He grew use to the animal sounds and they to him as he walked through the forest like an apparition. When the weather was too bad to go out, he sat at the top of his tower and watched the wind and rain batter the large glass panels in elemental fury. On some nights he studied the stars through his telescope and dreamed of other worlds. It was a lonely life.

It was a normal quiet day in downtown Milford when the outlaws rode into town. All three had long black dusters on and were carrying Winchester rifles. They rode their horses up to the bank and casually dismounted. After tying them up on the wooden railing they all strolled inside, still carrying their rifles. A keen-eyed deputy sitting outside the barber shop spotted the men and suspected them of being outlaws. He passed the word around to the townspeople.

By the time the outlaws came outside every able man in Milford had a rifle trained on the front of the bank. The sheriff shouted out for the men to surrender and then he saw the little girl in the arms of one of the outlaws.

“Hold your fire!” he screamed. A few shots rang out and then stopped. One of the shots hit an outlaw and he slumped in his saddle as another one pulled up alongside him on his horse and steadied him. The whole town watched them ride out of sight into the dense forest nearby. The sheriff put a posse together, but it was getting dark and impossible to track the outlaws in the night. The girl’s name was Judy and she was blind. Her parents were grief-stricken. Members of the community stayed up with them all night.

Instead of putting distance between the town and themselves, the outlaws chose to stay close and circled around in the forest looking for a place to hide out. Then they saw a light that appeared to be hovering high in the distance. On the outskirts of the forest they stumbled across the Livingstone house. None of the men had ever seen a house that big and were awed by the tower. They could plainly see someone in it. Taking their horses to a nearby barn, the outlaws lowered their comrade to the ground on a pile of straw. He’d been bleeding profusely and lost a lot of blood on the trail. One of the men stayed in the barn with the wounded man. The other, holding Judy tightly by her arm, went over to the house. The outlaw had his pistol out as they walked up the steps of the porch to the front door. It was dark inside. The only light inside came from the top of the tower and filtered down the winding stairs to a faint glow.

The outlaw, who went by Cherokee Pete, stepped inside the dark entryway, pulling the reluctant little girl along with him. There didn’t appear to be anyone else home. He looked at the grand stairway, took a better hold of Judy’s hand, and began ascending the marble stairs. Charles heard them of course. His hearing was very good, despite having no outer ears. He listened to a little girl’s whimper of fear. A man’s low guttural grunt hushing her up. Step, by step.

Charles was unarmed. He sensed whoever was coming up the stairs was armed and was going to make short work of him. All he had was a small element of surprise and the cane he used when his bad leg acted up. He stood up beside the door so when it opened he’d have a clear shot with his cane. He barely had time to react before the door was flung open and a gun, followed by a hand and arm appeared. In that instant he brought the cane down with all of his strength and heard a satisfying crack as the gun fell to the floor! Cherokee Pete howled in pain and let go of Judy to grab his broken wrist. At the same time he looked over at his attacker…and screamed! Ignoring his injury he ran towards one of the glass panels and plunged through the window, his body tumbling down until he made contact with the ground three stories below. Charles turned towards Judy to see if she was all right. He prepared himself for the inevitable scream. As he looked closer he realized she was blind.

“Are you okay?” he gently asked.

“Yes…thanks to you kind sir. My name is Judy and that bad man and his friends kidnapped me.”

“Friends?

Yes. Outside in your barn. There’s two men, and I think one is seriously wounded.

Charles bent over and picked up Cherokee Pete’s pistol. “You stay here. I’ll be back.”

“Wait! What’s your name?”

Pause. “Charles.”

“Thank you, Charles…”

He heard her innocent voice all the way downstairs and out to the barn where he peeked through the partly open door and saw the two men. One was lying down and not moving. The other sat next to him and was drinking from a bottle of whiskey. His rifle lay across his lap.

Charles watched him for a few minutes, pondering on what to do next. He never fired a gun before. He was aware the hammer had to be pulled back before firing, but that was it. Finally, as the man tossed his empty whiskey bottle aside, Charles made his move and charged through the door firing the pistol wildly at the outlaw whose eyes opened wide in terror when he saw him. Then he went for his own pistol and fired once, before one of Charles’ wild shots hit him in the head killing him instantly. The lone shot found its mark and Charles sank to his knees clutching his chest. After the initial shock he got up and slowly made his way into the house. Once inside, he called out Judy’s name and passed out in the parlor.

“Thank you, Charles…”

He opened his bad eye and saw Judy and a woman standing next to her. It was Judy’s mother. He was in a strange house. In a strange bed. And people weren’t turning from him in terror and loathing. As he lay recovering for the next two weeks Judy stayed by his side and chatted gaily about life and it’s wonders.

After a while, she convinced Charles that his life could be wonderful too.

As It Stands, it doesn’t matter how you look, it only matters how you act.

The Leader of the Pack

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Jacob Chandler, wagon master for the Smith & Hardin wagon train bound for California, was riding ahead when he saw a naked white man staked to the ground over a red ant hill.

His whole body was swollen with bites and burnt by the relentless July sun. Jacob rode up to him and dismounted from his horse warily, casting a practiced eye around the scene for any sign of danger. At first, when he bent over the man he thought he was dead. There were no apparent signs of life. But when he stood up, the man’s eyes suddenly opened and he groaned.

Taking a canteen of water from his horse, he bent over him and cut the rope holding his hands and tilted it slightly so a tiny stream poured out onto his cracked lips. After cutting the restraints from his feet he went over to his horse and pulled out some clothes from his saddlebag. It was an effort dressing him because he was uncooperative and delirious. By the time he finished the wagon train’s lead wagon, with old man Hardin and his family, pulled into view bringing a cloud of dust with them.

Jacob asked what the leaders wanted to do with the man he found, who was unconscious again and propped up against a boulder. There was no doubt they’d help him, it was just a matter of pulling straws to see whose wagon he would get a ride in. Once that was settled, they carried the stranger to Andrew Carter’s wagon. He was a bachelor carpenter who traveled with his brother and his wife. There was room for one more.

Later that night, after the wagon’s were circled, and sentries posted, Andrew Carter watched the stranger slowly regain consciousness. The stranger was stretched out and Andrew was sitting on a wooden pail when he came to.

“How ya feelin’ pilgrim?” Andrew asked.

“Right poorly, I’d say.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jesse…Jesse Stewart.

“Where ya from?”

“Ohio originally,” he answered as he struggled to sit up.

“I recon ya ran into some unfriendly Injuns,” Andrew observed.

“Sioux, I think. Maybe Blackfoot.”

“It’s one, or da other. Those tribes don’t cotton to each other. That’s what Jacob our scout said when we entered this territory. How’d ya end up so badly?” Andrew asked while dipping a ladle into a bucket of water and offering it to him.

Jesse sipped the water before answering. “My pard and I were looking for gold.

“Hereabouts?”

“No. We were heading for California and got ambushed. They kilt Dan outright. Scalped him and cut him up badly, so his ancestors wouldn’t recognize him. Had some fun with me. Sure grateful to you folks for savin my hide.”

“It was the Christian thing to do Mr. Stewart. Would you like to get up and stretch some?”

“I believe I will.

Andrew watched Jesse crawl out and stand up outside. He seemed steady enough. He followed him when he started into the brush, then thought better of it. He was probably taking a piss. A man don’t like being bothered when he’s doing that he realized.

He looked up into the clear sky and the half-moon. A wolf howled, sending shivers down his spine. Another answered its plaintive cry.

The next morning Jacob, Andrew, his brother Robert and his wife Daphne, and Jesse were drinking coffee around a campfire.

“You lost everything then?” Daphne said to Jesse.

“Yes mam. My horse, mule an supplies. Nearly my life too, cept you folks saved it.”

“Just you and your brother were traveling to California? Seems kinda risky,” Jacob observed while puffing on a cigar.

“We thought we could move faster than some wagon train,” Jesse admitted. “Didn’t really recon how sneaky those redskins were, I guess.”

Days turned to weeks, as the slow-moving wagon train lumbered on. Every night wolves howled nearby. It was Andrew who noticed that the wolves began following them when they took Jesse in. He didn’t say anything at first. What could he say? Maybe he hadn’t noticed their nightly cries before. He pondered on it and didn’t share his uneasiness with anyone. Jesse was a good man who readily volunteered to help with any task. Whether it was fixing a wagon wheel or standing guard at night, he proved to be a valuable asset to the expedition. Everyone seemed to like him.

As the wagon train prepared to draw up for the night in a narrow mountain pass, Indians attacked! Drivers tried to get their teams into a circle but the attack was coming from all angles. For nearly an hour the sound of gun fire and screams echoed in the pass. The attackers finally left as darkness descended upon the carnage. The survivors went about moving the still functioning wagons into a circle. The terrified cries of women and children pierced the chilly night as the men went about fortifying their defenses. The dead were drug to one side, outside the circle, and hastily buried in a mass grave. The wounded were treated. They posted double guards that night. In the chaos, Jesse disappeared. He wasn’t among the dead or wounded. Jacob and Andrew figured he ran away or was taken captive by the Indians.

That night there was a full moon.

It was just after midnight when the sentries alerted the wagon’s inhabitants that something strange was happening. The wolves sounded louder and more savage. They heard distant screams of surprise and horror. In the distance they could see flames skipping across the prairie like devils. Strong winds carried the flames east. Away from the wagon train.

In the early mornings hours before dawn Andrew woke up and peeked out from the canvas. He thought he heard something. Then he saw the strangest thing he’d ever seen! A man wolf was standing upright and motioning for the packs of wolves – there must have been hundreds as he watched their eyes glitter, to go south. His hairy arm waved and the wolves slipped off into the dawn yipping playfully.

Then the man wolf fell to the ground and writhed about until it’s hair was gone and only a naked Jesse remained. Just before the transformation was complete, Andrew pulled his head inside the wagon and took a deep breath. He had a weird feeling that the Indians weren’t going to bother them anymore.

As It Stands, it seems man-wolves can be as loyal as a pack of dogs.

A Hung Jury at Brimstone

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Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry

Badlands Billy stoically waited to be hung.

He was wanted for stealing souls in Brimstone, and was captured in a saloon there by two zombie bounty hunters. Not without a fight however.

One of the zombies lost his hand when Badlands Billy hacked it off with his hatchet during the melee. Saloon patrons tried to stay out of the fracas, but there were still some injuries from errant bullets buzzing around like mad bees in the increasingly smoky saloon.

When it was over, the two zombies had Billy hogtied and drug him to the sheriff’s office where he was thrown into jail. The Sheriff, a second-level demon, paid the zombies their bounty then unceremoniously kicked them out of his office.

“Next time take a bath you smelly bastards!” Sheriff Bodi shouted, “You’ve stunk up my jail again!”

He turned to Billy and looked him over critically.

“You don’t look stupid,” he mused out loud. “But anyone who thinks he can get over on the Master has to be an idiot,” he firmly declared.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it lawman.”

“I have. But the difference between you and me is, I’m smart enough not to. That really pisses Lucifer off, you know.”

“Why don’t you let me go Sheriff? You know my gang is going to show up soon and there will be hell to pay.

“Another level, here or there, doesn’t particularly bother me Billy.

A day later, while the sheriff waited for the judge from Tombstone to arrive, Billy’s gang rode into Brimstone on black horses. They trotted up to the jail house and got off their silent steeds without exchanging words. All five of them were pulling out their pistols when the towns inhabitants opened fire! They were expected.

Bullets rained down from porches. Every window and door had a shooter busily firing at the gang. Like Billy, they were all level one demons and were dropping like fetid flies. When the firing stopped they lay scattered on the dusty street in front of the jailhouse. Their riddled bodies seeped blood that trickled down into the dirt in little pools.

Level one ghouls bid on the bodies afterwards. Their flesh sold for far more than beef. It was one of many reasons why Brimstone didn’t have a coroner. When Billy learned of his gang’s fate he howled like a wolf all night.

“I guess that’s it for you wise guy,” the Sheriff later mocked him. “I expect the judge tomorrow so you better get ready to be served up on someone’s plate when the death penalty is handed down.”

“What? No jury, or trial? I thought even level one demons had some rights.”

“There’ll be a jury, and you’ll get your trial. But at the end of the day, the devil always wins.”

The trial was held at the saloon. The judge arrived with two officers of the county court who immediately set up rows of chairs and constructed a crude platform where the judge would sit on an old stuffed chair from one of the upstairs whores room.

When the sheriff escorted Billy into the saloon cheers broke out. Apparently Billy did have some supporters in the crowd. The jury consisted of level one demons that weren’t too drunk to sit upright for an hour. Billy’s peers.

The judge slammed his gavel on a little desk in front of him and called for silence. He looked down at Billy with undisguised disgust. Even a stupid soul-stealer like Billy knew that wasn’t a good sign.

“You stand accused of stealing souls from humans who are the Master’s playthings. By poaching on Lord Satan’s subjects you have crossed the line of no return. Your fate now lies with this jury,” the judge said indicating a group of 12 demons sitting unsteadily in two rows of rickety chairs. “How do you plead?

“I’m as innocent as a new-born babe, your honor.”

Rolling his eyes in scorn, the judge called on the first witness. A parade of previously paid witnesses spent the next hour testifying against Billy. The jury bravely tried to stay awake during their testimonies, but occasionally one of them would slip off in his chair, only to waken startled and blurry-eyed before regaining his seat.

“It’s time for the defense to state their case,” the judge declared.

Billy’s lawyer slowly stood up. His rumbled jacket had vomit stains on the front. Blood-shot eyes searched the room before settling on Billy. “You my client?” he asked Billy after letting out a long belch.

“Yeah,” Billy admitted in resignation.

The lawyer, Travis Goldblot, turned to the judge and bowed. “If it pleases the court my client begs for mercy and a lower level of hell. He didn’t mean to do it.” 

The judge dismissed him with a wave of his long skeletal fingers, and turned to the jury. “All right you lazy bastards! You go over to that room behind the bar and make a decision on what we should do with this piece of scum.”

The decision only took ten minutes.

When the jury assembled before the judge, ten of them looked pale with fright. The eleventh jury member appeared to be unconcerned. He was casually chewing on a wad of tobacco and talking with the twelfth juror when the judge asked for their decision.

The forlorn speaker for the jury stood up and mumbled a reply.

“Speak up damn you!” the judge groused.

“We have a hung jury, your lordship,” he admitted.

The saloon broke out in roars of laughter! This never happened before. The accused in any trial was always declared guilty. That was part of being damned. The situation was so unique that the judge sat there in shock during the chaos.

One of Billy’s supporters in the crowd shouted, “Free drinks on me!” causing a stampede to the bar. The judge and the two county officers seemed to shrink in stature as they slithered past the revelers and out the batwing doors.

As It Stands, even the devil’s minions get out of line sometimes.

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.

The Mail Order Bride

Mail order brides were a common occurrence in the Old West, so when Hank told his friend Logan he’d sent for one, they celebrated in the Bucket Of Blood saloon until they were kicked out by the bartender who was closing up.

Logan had married a lady from Boston last year, when she replied to his ad for a bride. Seeing his friend so happy, Hank decided it was time to seek martial bliss himself. It was pretty lonely at the miner’s camp in Big Gulch, Nevada.

He’d saved up money that he earned hunting for meat and furs for the miners, and felt confident that he could support his new wife.

Unlike Logan, who worked hard everyday at the gold mine owned by the Loman Brothers, Hank was a free spirit who didn’t want to be tethered to anyone, or business.

Gold was first discovered in the vicinity of Carlin in Eureka County, Nevada, in the 1870s, and by the time Logan and Hank arrived from Ohio, it was a thriving business in Jackass Junction.

Hank was a good hunter, and the fur that he cured was easily sold to miners. He also made arrangements with other small mining towns like Jackass Junction, to bring them meat in exchange for coffee, tobacco and liquor.

Once he decided to get married he built a log cabin away from the boom town, and filled it with crude wooden furniture he made himself. There was a bed, kitchen table, four chairs, and several wooden shelves on the wall near a wood-fired stove he bought in a 1887 Sears catalogue.

There were still very few women in the area, and when one arrived in town it was a big occasion for the men, who gathered on the street to greet them. As soon as word got out a newcomer was there to meet her husband, most of the men lost interest and went about their business.

Hank purchased a buggy and two roan horses to pull it. When the day came around for his new bride’s arrival, he joined Logan and the other men in town, lingering around at the saloon.

“What’s her name again pard?” Logan asked.

“Annabel Lee,” Hank cheerfully replied.

There conversation was abruptly terminated when someone shouted, “Coach is here! The stagecoach is here!” The men poured out of the saloon like lemmings to get a look at the new arrivals.

It was a bumper crop of brides, with five women inside. Turned out that only two were brides, and the other three were “soiled doves,” to the absolute delight of the women-starved miners.

Annabel Lee stood out from the other sun-tanned women, because she was so pale. She wore a black dress, with a matching hat and veil, and carried an umbrella. Hank couldn’t help notice some men staring at her oddly.

The stagecoach driver was pulling down Annabel Lee’s luggage when Hank approached her timidly.

“Might you be Annabel Lee?

“You are Hank then. You’re much more handsome than in the photo you sent me.” she said matter-of-factly.

Hank blushed under his recently trimmed beard.

“Thankee mamI’ll take care of your luggage.

Hank helped her up to the buggy seat and went after her luggage. Left alone for a moment, she raised her veil slightly…and hissed, as she surveyed the townspeople.

Hank returned after loading her luggage, and hopped nimbly up onto the buggy seat beside her. He took the reins and gently tugged them. The roan’s took off in a steady pace as they headed to the cabin.

After a few cursory questions the conversation died down. Hank had never felt more awkward in all of his life. His only experience was with a prostitute in the nearby boom town of  Hell’s Half-Acre. Once.

When they got to the cabin he helped her down and unhitched the horses. He led them over to a water trough as she stood silently in front of the cabin. After securing both horses near his stallion, he came back and opened the front door.

“C’mon in,” he said with as big a smile as he could muster.

She didn’t comment on any of the furnishings while Hank started a fire in the woodstove.

“Built this place m’sef,” he offered, by way of conversation.

She took off her hat and veil, and appeared paler than before.

“Very talented,” she softly replied. “What else can you do?” she asked coyly.

“Well…I’m a pretty fair hunter, and a decent shot with a Colt .45. Been riding horses since I was five…

She studied his face as he spoke. He seemed like a nice guy. She knew he would provide good cover for her being here.

He was her complete opposite. She was a traveler who had seen many cities in her long lifetime. He was a country boy out of his league right now. She spoke 22 languages. It was apparent to her that he hadn’t even mastered one, with his accent.

She was tired of the east coast, and when she heard about mail order brides it encouraged her to go on another adventure. So, she answered Hanks letters for a proper period of time, and then made arrangements to come out west and get married.

It had been over 30 years since Edgar Allen Poe immortalized her. She, in turn, encouraged him to pursue his tales of mystery and the macabre. He was the last man she lived with for a while.

The intervening years were spent single, roaming the streets of eastern cities in search of new blood supplies. Unlike novice vampires, Annabel Lee had evolved over the centuries to the thing she was now. The sun was no longer fatal to her. Just something to be avoided.

“I just can’t get over what a handsome man you are Hank! Please forgive me. I know I’m being forward and we aren’t married yet.”

Awwww shucks mam. I set it up with the preacher so we could get hitched tomorrow.

“How thoughtful,” she said. “Come here Hank…”

The next morning while they were riding to town, Hank felt an itch on the side of his neck. When he scratched it, he got a little blood on his fingernails. Not overly concerned, his thoughts quickly returned to getting married.

Most of the miners in town were working when they got there. The preacher was waiting in the saloon for them.

“Sorry mam!” the preacher said, “We don’t have us a church yet. This will have to do.”

Annabel Lee smiled sweetly and declared, “Oh, that’s all right reverend. I’m ready to marry this fine man anywhere.”

After the five-minute ceremony the bartender bought the bride and groom a drink. He set two beers down on the bar for them. Hank tossed his beer down without hesitation.

Annabel Lee looked at hers, and then at her new husband, “I’m so sorry. But I don’t drink any kind of alcohol. Not that I mind if you do though. It doesn’t set well with me,” she explained.

Months later, a dozen miners grew so weak they could no longer walk. The local doctor, between bouts with John Barleycorn, had no idea what was wrong with the men. He told anyone who asked that they were sicker than anything he’d ever seen. He knew it wasn’t consumption.

Hank and Logan were having a beer at the saloon one afternoon when Logan asked, “What do you think about what’s happened to those men? I ain’t never seen anything like it. The doc says the same.”

“Not sure pard.

As Hank rode his horse back to the cabin he was troubled. He knew Annabel Lee was sneaking out at night when she thought he was asleep in the wee hours. He decided that he had to find out what was going on that night.

The moon was at its fullest when Annabel Lee stealthily got out of bed. He marveled at how quiet she could be, then rolled off the bed, and pulled his trousers on and his boots. He slipped on a shirt, and leather jacket.

After a slight pause he strapped his gun belt on. One ould never be sure in this wild country.

Hank followed her trail on foot. It wasn’t easy. She barely disturbed the ground she walked on. As a hunter, he learned long ago on how to track prey. As he followed her a growing uneasiness told him this wasn’t normal.

Women didn’t just get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks without telling their husbands. There was something about her that made him uneasy at times. He just couldn’t figure out what it was.

He was lucky to catch a flash of her skirt as it disappeared inside the tent set aside for the twelve sick men. Hank got down on all fours and crawled over to the tent. A candle flickered weakly on a table next to the woman who was asleep in a rocking chair.

A pitcher of water and partial loaf of bread were on the small table. Annabel Lee confidently moved from man-to-man, sucking on their sleeping necks! Hank who was peeking from underneath the tent flap, recoiled back in sheer horror when he saw what she was doing!

The thought of lying next to that monster who was sucking the poor men’s lifeblood away was too much. He was a simple man who knew very little about supernatural things. He heard a few scary yarns growing up in the Ohio Valley.

But nothing like this.

Hank crawled away from the tent until he was near the livery stable. He got up and made a mad dash for it. Inside, he found the preacher snoring loudly and still clasping a bottle of rot gut rye in one hand.

Hank plucked the bottle from his chubby fist and shook him hard, “Wake up! I need you!” he whispered. It took a pail of water and some slapping, but Hank got him to finally wake up.

Sputtering indignantly, the preacher demanded to know why he was so rudely awakened?

“Hush! Keep it down and listen to me. What kind of creature sucks folks blood?

The preacher’s eyes grew wide as saucers. “Why do you ask?

“That gal I hitched up with, is sucking men’s blood. That’s why those miners are so sick!”

This time the preacher crossed himself, “Are you sure?”

“Saw it with my own eyes a little bit ago,” Hank assured him.

“She must be a vampire!” he said, and crossed himself again for good measure.

“What in Billy hell is that?

“A demon of the night. They can only be killed by a wooden stake through their black heart, or cutting their head off!” the Preacher explained.

“You mean bullets don’t kill them?”

“I’m afraid not Hank. They also have supernatural strength, so don’t get in no wrestling match with her.”

Hank left the now very sober preacher and went back outside. He got back down to the ground and crawled over to the tent. She was still there, stroking the hair of the sleeping woman.

Careful not to make a noise, he headed back to the cabin as fast as he could. It seemed like he no sooner got there when the front door creaked and she slipped in inside beside him on the bed.

It took all the will power he had to lie still, and wait. It wasn’t long before he could tell from her regular breathing that she was asleep. The predawn quiet seemed sinister as Hank slipped out of the bed.

Without dressing, still in his long johns, Hank went outside to the woodpile and went through a stack of sticks that were trimmed off from his last load of firewood. He picked one that was sturdy and narrow on one end.

With a nearby hatchet he sharpened it. Then he got a hammer from the tools in his small shed. The hunter in Hank kicked in as he went back inside.

Before he chickened out he put the stake over her heart and thrust down! He hit the stake again with the hammer! It was over in a moment. Her body turned to ashes. There wasn’t even a skeleton left.

Horrified and amazed, Hank got dressed and rode into town. He went straight for the saloon and waited until it opened. The bartender shook his head when he opened up the saloon.

“Kinda early Hank.”

Nearly a bottle later, Hank was still standing but reeling awkwardly.

When Logan came in the saloon later that afternoon, after working at the mine, he found Hank three-sheets-to-the-wind. Logan patted his old friend on the shoulder and asked him about married life.

Hank started to say something…but started coughing so hard, he fell down to the ground gasping for air. He finally got air enough to moan, “Never again!”

As It Stands, whose to say a few bloodsuckers didn’t go west back in the day?

In The Dead Of Night

“Your got here just in time.

“Find yourself a comfortable place near the bonfire, because I’m ready to tell a story.”

“My name is Duke Masterson, and I’m the oldest resident in Weston… still able to talk that is. There’s old Charlie Dent, but since he lost his dentures no one can understand him. Truth be told, his memory isn’t as good as mine. 

“Any of you folks from Missouri?

Only one arm went up. The rest of the group was tourists from all over the country. One young couple was busy passing a bottle of Jack Daniels back and forth while keeping their eyes on Duke.

“Just a little history first. One of the things this town has always been proud of was our rich heritage built by beer and whiskey. There was a time, long ago, Weston was a main port for riverboats, but things changed.

I’m proud to tell you we have been drinking quality beer since 1842, when John Georgian built one of the first lager beer breweries in this country. Old John was a German immigrant who brought us a fine old world beer they we still enjoy today.

“Any questions?”

“Yeah! What time does that brewery open tomorrow?” a young man with a baseball cap that said “Booze Hound” asked. A couple of other tourists laughed. Duke waited until the laughter died down.

“I’m back to bragging again about liquor. We’re also home to McCormick Distilling Company, founded in 1856. For you history buffs, it’s the oldest whiskey distillery west of the Mississippi River that’s still in operation.

How about this; the Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped not far from here at today’s town hall. Remember reading about William Buffalo Bill Cody? He was a resident here for years.”

“Hey Duke! One of the men sitting on a lawn chair said, “Enough history. We’re here to listen to your story!”

Applause broke out as the group looked at the old man eagerly. Duke managed to muster up a smile. They were right. They wanted to be scared tonight. They wanted ghost tales that would tickle their fears.

He was happy to accommodate them.

“Back in 1840, before we had beer and whiskey industries, most folks were farmers. Hemp was a crop that grew well and exporting rope helped keep the town going. I think I mentioned that riverboats used to come here.

“One day a strange-looking fella got off one of those riverboats and caused quit a stir. He had tattoos all over his body. His bald head was painted blue. He had three negro servants and was wearing silk robes. You can imagine what a sight they made.

“The tattooed man hired someone to haul their baggage over to the old Frontier Hotel where he rented two rooms. Well, it didn’t take long for rumors to circulate about him being a witch doctor and his negroes being zombies.

When a series of strange things started happening around town, people started questioning the tattooed man. All of the cows stopped producing milk and the chickens stopped laying eggs. The owner of the hardware store went nuts and ran down the street frothing at the mouth!

The city fathers got together and held an emergency meeting. They decided that the tattooed man and his negroes were bad medicine. Tempers flared and things sorta got out of hand because they marched over to the hotel and pulled the tattooed man and the negroes out of their rooms.

The next thing you know, they hung them from all from a tree just outside town. Before they slipped the noose over the tattooed man’s neck he cursed them all…and their descendants!

Just before they liberated him from this world, he warned them that their town would become his at night from that moment forward.”

Duke looked at the group to gauge their reactions. They were quiet and subdued.

A wolf howled nearby. The bonfire sputtered and a sudden rush of wind put it out. As the group watched in horror Duke transformed before their bulging eyes. Gone was the old man. A tall tattooed man with a bald head painted blue drew a knife from the sash at his waist.

He roared in rage, and then plunged into the terrified group!

As It Stands, storytelling time in Weston is a hell of an experience!

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.