Time out of Time

Something went terribly wrong with Dr. Vincent Van Buren’s time machine.

The first time he used it, in 2018, everything went well. He took a quick visit to North Kingstown, Rhode Island in 1950, the year he was born, and returned in the allotted ten minutes to San Diego, California.

There wasn’t much room in the time machine. It was basically a round ball with a seat inside and three collapsible legs to stand on outside.

Van Buren was a genius. All the technology he used was far in advance of anyone else in 2018.

World scientists were aware of some of his work, but the majority thought he was a well-educated eccentric with delusions. His papers on time travel were jeered by his colleagues.

He never let the naysayers get him down. He prepared all of his life for this moment…when he would become a time traveler. That time was now as he readied himself for his next visit to the past.

He wore a black jumpsuit that had pockets in front, down the sides, and in back. In them he carried things like a compass, a pocket knife, length of rope, dried meals, nutrition bars, first aid supplies, a magnifying glass, and an extra battery for the taser gun he wore on a utility belt.

When he sat down inside he had just enough room to put two canteens of water between his feet. All the controls were within his reach. There was a small monitor that was hooked up to a camera on top of the time machine, providing a panoramic look outside.

This time he set the controls for ancient Egypt’s Old Kingdom period (2686-2181 BC). He chose the Great Sphinx of Giza for his destination point.

Then he was there.

The time machine was just a few feet away from the enormous Sphinx as he looked at the monitor. It was night, but a full moon lit the desert landscape as Van Buren pushed a button and the hatch door opened.

The interior lights profiled him as he stepped out in time for two Egyptian traders to see him. He could hear shrieks of terror as they urged their camels on to greater speeds!

“They either think I was a god, or someone really evil,” he thought while walking over to the base of the Sphinx. His studies told him that it was located on the west bank of the Nile, near Cairo, and that the sphinx was believed to be the pharaoh Khafra.

Van Buren marveled at the traditional blue and gold horizontal bands on the nemes headdress. The body was red. The face was yellow, a traditional color for men in ancient Egypt.

The Sphinx’s black beard was striking. In Van Buren’s time archeologists had just recently discovered the broken-off beard buried in the sand.

He lost track of time while walking around the Sphinx, but his wristwatch beeped, reminding him that it was time to get back. A few minutes later he settled in and waited for the auto pilot to take over.

He was still waiting an hour later!

Something was horribly wrong!

He tried not to panic. It wouldn’t help anything. He pulled out an emergency tool kit and started to dismantle the main panel when there was a bright flash and he was thrown back in his seat!

The sphinx was gone. He could see a primordial jungle outside. Then he saw a sight that made his blood run cold! A Tyrannosaurus rex was chasing a smaller dinosaur and they were coming his way!

In his moment of terror, a part of Van Buren’s brain recalled that it must be the Late Cretaceous period in what was in his time, North America. One of the dinosaurs slammed into the time machine and sent it spinning down a slope!

The Tyrannosaurus rex let out a roar of victory when it caught the smaller animal. For the first time in his life, Van Buren thought about death. He suspected he was close to it right now. He watched through the monitor – the camera was still miraculously working – and saw the bipedal carnivore rip his meal apart.

The stabilizers were still working or he would be in an even more awkward position. Suddenly the curious carnivore saw the time machine. It started moving in his direction when…there was a flash, and he was somewhere else!

It was raining outside and he couldn’t make anything out. His heart was still beating fast and he felt faint. He reached into one of his pockets and pulled out a nutrition bar. As he chewed on it he tried to organize his thoughts.

He was afraid of stepping outside in case the time machine decided to move on. Why it was happening mystified him. Then it happened again.

This time he saw sunshine.

He was in the middle of a field of wheat. He looked at the monitor and idly wondered where he was now. He was as startled as the man who stepped into view swinging a sickle!

He stopped and warily moved towards the time machine. He was divided between curiosity and fear while looking at the camera. Van Buren guessed he was a European peasant from his clothing, pock marks on his face, and blackened teeth. The antique sickle fit with his guess.

“Sacrebleu!” the man cried out in surprise.

Then, in a flash, he was gone!

When Van Buren was able to focus his eyes again on the monitor all he could see was snow. The time machine was sitting in an arctic tundra with no civilization in sight. He was glad that the climate control inside was still working.

Hours passed this time. He quit looking at the monitor. There was nothing to see but whiteness. He wondered if this was finally it? He couldn’t get the controls to work properly, and he was at the machine’s mercy.

Exhausted, he nodded off. 

When he woke up he was in his laboratory! He immediately pushed the button to open the hatch and crawled out. His legs were numb from sitting. His elation at this turn of events was short-lived however, as the time machine disappeared again!

All of his work was gone! Who would believe him now? A sense of despair gripped him and he slunk into a depression. Family and friends couldn’t get him to leave his lab for anything.

After a while they all gave up. The courts said he wasn’t crazy and he could do what he wanted. All Van Buren wanted, was for his time machine to return again someday! He’d be there waiting.

As It Stands, time travel can be a tricky thing.

Blink If You Can Hear Me!

The huge cargo ship, Alushion, lumbered on in space, dwarfing some stars as it hurtled towards its destination.

The crew didn’t know what they were carrying, nor did most care. The majority of the 32 man-crew were old-timers who had been with the ship for years. There was one new crew member however.

His name was Gorm, and he was assigned all the shit duties aboard the ship. He was pretty sure that it would take years before he moved up enough to where he wasn’t cleaning bathrooms and grease pits.

But he didn’t plan on being a crew member forever. He was a former reporter for The World News in Gallax’s biggest city Aahorn. He quit his job because his editor wouldn’t let him write stories about state corruption and slavery.

What made him make the big move was a tip from a trusted informant. Gallax’s biggest cargo ship was carrying more than minerals and Gallaxian steel. It was also covertly carrying slaves!

Gorm was sure his editor wouldn’t let him go undercover and investigate it. So he quit and applied for a menial job as a crew member aboard the Alushion. He was in luck. One of the regulars was in an accident and they needed a replacement.

The adventure of it all appealed to Gorm’s endless imagination.

He would write a tell-all book about slavery that would catapult him to fame and wealth. Civilized Gallaxians abhorred slavery, but there was a criminal element that specialized in it.

Every city on Gallax had a problem with residents disappearing. No bodies ever showed up. The authorities seemed unable to do anything about it. There were hints of what was going on, like when one man escaped.

He was blinded and never knew that he was hidden in a building near the International Space Station. But he did hear broken conversations and shared those with authorities.

The slavers were well-organized. How they got their captives off world was a mystery. There were so many possibilities the authorities were stumped. Private ships, military ships, commercial travel ships, cargo ships, and on, and on.

There were literally thousands of possibilities to hide slaves.

The slavers would wait until they had at least 200 captives before transporting them. The captain of the Alushion was a corrupt scoundrel with high government connections. His arrangement with the slavers paid him three times his captain’s salary.

The whole scheme was the brainchild of Lancor Mey, the leader of the biggest underworld gang on Gallax. He partnered up with the ship’s captain, Kanor Olk, and for the past ten years they transported thousands of Gallaxians off world and to other planets that provided eager buyers.

The ship actually had two crews; the one that authorities saw consisting of 32 employees, and the one they didn’t see that consisted of three employees whose only job was to take care of the captives.

This was made possible by having a false hull that was converted into an area where the helpless captives were put in plastic pods that sporadically emitted sleeping gases. They were hooked up to feeder tubes which the small crew was supposed to monitor.

Gorm was so busy for the first three days that he didn’t have time to explore anything. No menial task was below him. On the fourth day he found himself with some free time. He was such a hard worker that some of the crew members were already letting up on him.

He learned that there were three decks and a hold of Galaxian steel and tons of minerals in it. He knew where the captain’s quarters was, the ship’s kitchen, the navigation deck, the crew’s quarters, and where the various supply rooms were.

A week later, Gorm was becoming discouraged. He still hadn’t seen anything suspicious, or heard any juicy conversations that might provide leads to where the slaves were being held.

He was starting to think he was a fool for listening to the tipster. He was stuck on a cargo ship that wouldn’t return to Gallax for three more weeks.

Then a break came.

He got to know all the crew members during his short time aboard, and when he saw a stranger slip out of the kitchen and scurry to a door that led below decks, he followed. He could hear the stranger’s footsteps as he disappeared down into the engine room.

Gorm looked at the small nuclear reactor that was the ship’s source of power. All eight feet of it was sheathed in steel plates with Gallaxian script engraved into them. Gorm was so close to the stranger that he had to duck behind the reactor when he stopped, and started to turn around checking to see if he was being followed.

Then the stranger put his hand on the wall and a hidden door slid open! Gorm cautiously watched where he put his hand. He had no doubt what he’d find if he went into that secret room.

He knew for sure there was one slaver, and more than likely others inside. He had no way of knowing how many of them. Nothing about the situation was good. What should he do?

He couldn’t stay here much longer before someone missed him. He considered telling the captain, but as he walked back to his quarters a growing sense of alarm told him not to. He really couldn’t trust anyone aboard.

After the encounter with the stranger he made a habit of going back to where the secret door was several times a day. His persistence paid off days before they were scheduled to land on Anterrean, Gallax’s main trading partner.

He was hiding behind the reactor which was directly across from the secret door when one of the slavers emerged. He hurried out. Gorm went to the spot and put his hand there.

At first he couldn’t see anything. The room was bathed in a soft blue light that didn’t throw shadows. Gorm saw another slaver slouched over a keyboard in front of a monitor. He was asleep.

As he felt his way around the room he saw another stranger stretched out on a bunk asleep. His luck was holding up. Then he came to a row of pods that held the captives. As he continued to search he found more rows. He stopped in front of one when he noticed a movement.

The captive in one pod opened his eyes and moved his head slightly.

“Blink if you can hear me,” Gorm said.

The Gallaxian blinked twice. The horror of the situation made Gorm’s blood run cold. “I’m going to try to help you,” he said.

The Gallaxian blinked again. Then his eyes grew wider!

Gorm didn’t hear anything until too late. A slaver slipped up behind him and put him in a chokehold. Darkness.

When he woke up he was in a room full of captives from planets throughout the solar system. He guessed he was on Anterrean. He felt like a damn fool! What made him think he would get away with going into that room?

He always wanted to experience adventures and to be a writer. Now he was a slave!

A slaver came into the room and roughly grabbed him by his arm, and led him outside to a platform before a group of prospective buyers.

“This pathetic creature,” the auctioneer droned, “...says he’s a writer. Who needs a writer? he asked the group. A couple of low bids were thrown out and the auctioneer acted disgusted, “I might as well slaughter him and sell his meat to the Zarks,” he grouched.

Finally a wealthy female Gallaxian made a bid that was acceptable. The auctioneer gave her the mobile control device that activated the shock collar on Gorm’s neck. It was standard slave issue.

Gorm followed her obediently down a series of well-maintained streets until they came to a big compound. His new master’s name was Illse, and she was the mistress of the large house.

“You’re job here is to tell stories to my children every night. If they like them, I’ll set you free after you tell a hundred consecutive tales.”

“Well… I don’t know…

“Writers are storytellers, are they not?”

“Yes…yes, you could call them that.”

“Good. Then we have an agreement?”

“Sure. By the way, what happens if I run out of stories or your kids don’t like them?”

“You become Zark meat,” she said conversationally.

Gorm gave a sick grin, and said, “When do we start?”

As It Stands, life is about adapting to situations.

A Journey To An Alternate Universe

Hector Perez was a cop in Cleveland, Ohio for twelve years, before he unwittingly stepped into an alternate universe.

One moment he was chasing a burglary suspect in the city’s eastern warehouse district, and the next moment he was standing alone in a deserted warehouse wearing some odd clothing! Beside a giddy feeling, he felt like he got off a merry-go-round, he felt fine.

Hector was a straight-forward kinda guy who didn’t believe in other dimensions, black holes, and alternate universes. His idea of a good time was drinking beer with his buddies and watching football games.

The sense of displacement made it hard for him to focus his thoughts. What should he do? Where was he? How did he get here? Was this a nightmare? Questions marched through his head like toy soldiers on parade.

He finally summoned up the energy, and courage, to explore his surroundings. The warehouse was huge, but empty. There were only two overhead lights, one on each end of the warehouse. Neither were on. But the sun shone through a skylight in the middle of the warehouse, illuminating a large area.

He went over to a row of frosted windows and tried to peer through them. Then he noticed his clothes again. He wasn’t wearing a uniform with his service revolver. Instead, he was wearing a dirty white t-shirt underneath a red and black checkered long sleeve wool shirt. He had faded Levi’s on and cowboy boots. His leather belt had a sheath for the hunting knife in it.

Looking for an opening, he found a large sliding door big enough to drive a truck through. It took all of his strength to slide it open on the rusted track. He managed to move it far enough to go through it.

Outside there were a row of small mom and pop stores, a gas station, and a car lot. He could see a large water tower at the outskirts of the small town. It said, “The Devil’s Half Acre,” in faded blue paint.

Hector was a man with little imagination. His world was cut and dried. He prided himself on his logic. He was a good cop, a great dad, and husband. Nothing in his life prepared him for this abrupt change to his world.

He walked over to the row of stores. The shoe store had a few customers inside. As he walked to the next business, a clothing store, a man outside said, “What the hell you doing here Billy Joe? You know the law is after you!

Hector stopped and stared at him. “What? Are you talking to me?”

“You know I am, Billy Joe. Cut the shit, Mom said you better get out-of-town fast!

“What? My name is Hector. Hector Perez. I’m a cop!”

“Wuuuweeee! Billy Joe! It’s me, your brother Lester! Save that talk for a loony doc if they catch you brother.”

“No! You don’t understand! I really…”

Look out brother! That’s Sheriff Tidwell’s Jeep! Run!”

Lester grabbed his hand and pulled him. “Hurry! C’mon! I don’t think he sees us.

Hector gave up and followed him. It felt weird running from the law. Especially when he didn’t even know what he did! Lester led him into a shabby neighborhood a couple of blocks away.

They jumped fences and ran across yards until Lester stopped at what looked like a deserted house. It turned out to be his home, along with his mother and sister. Lester slammed the front door behind them.

“Didn’t you listen to your brother Billy Joe? You need to leave this town pronto!” mom greeted him.

“There’s something wrong with his head Ma. He says he’s a “beaner” named Hector Perez.”

Mom moved closer to Hector and studied him for a moment. “You okay, Billy Joe?” she asked.

Hector shook his head in frustration. “No. I’m not okay, and I’m not Billy Joe. I don’t even know where I’m at!”

Mom looked over at Lester and his sister, Marley, to gage their reactions. The worry in their eyes told her they were thinking the same thing she was…Billy Joe lost his mind. It must have happened when he killed the Sheriff’s brother in the brawl at The Alibi nightclub last night.

The word was all over town; Billy Joe Baxter killed Blaine, Sheriff Tidwell’s baby brother. The little town was fairly abuzz with the news. It was their first killing in over 60 years. The weekly newspaper put out a special edition tracing the town’s history of murders/killings going back 130 years.

Hector realized these people could get into trouble if they were caught hiding him.

“Have the police come here yet?” he asked.

Surprised at his rational question, mom said, “They came by early this morning. The sheriff, and his three deputies searched the house.”

“You’re right. I need to leave. I don’t want to endanger you guys.”

Lester looked him in the eye and asked, “Are you all right brother?” 

Hector hesitated, then said, “Yeah…I’m fine. Gotta go!

Mom came over and kissed him. Ten-year-old Marylou gave him a hug. Lester gave him a knuckle bump as he went out the door.

Hector was trying to figure out how he could logically handle his situation while he cautiously walked towards a wooded area not far from town. He took off his checkered shirt and wrapped it around his waist as he walked along in the hot sun.

When he got to the woods he saw right away it was being actively logged. A swath was cut right through the center of the forest. He veered to the left of the operations and looked for a place where he could sit down and try to plot out his next move.

He found a shady spot and sat down with his back against a tall pine tree. The sun was on it’s way down when he decided he needed to go back to the warehouse. By the time he got back into town it was dark. He didn’t have any trouble locating the massive building.

The door was still partly opened as he left it. His cop radar sensed a threat and he hesitated before entering. The sheriff stepped out from the shadows with his gun pointed at Hector.

“Had a feeling I might catch you coming here tonight. Leaving the door opened helped. Are you ready to meet your maker Billy Joe?” Sheriff Tidwell asked.

“Aren’t you going to arrest me?” Hector asked.

“Shit no! You killed my baby brother you murdering bastard! I ain’t going to let some judge save your sorry ass with a life sentence. Turn around!”

Hector complied.

The sheriff slipped his handcuffs on him and gave him a shove.

“Inside. Start walking. I’ll tell you where to go,” the Sheriff assured him.

“Time’s up Billy Joe!” He shouted, while leveling his gun at him.

Hector broke out into a desperate run across the room expecting to hear the shot any moment. Then he heard it!

He was back in Cleveland chasing a burglar who just took a shot at him from a warehouse door! He pulled his service revolver and returned fire!

As It Stands, have you ever wondered if there is an alternate universe?

Dead Eyes

Listen to this story narrated by master storyteller Otis Jiry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Awww…Bryce me lad…”

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

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

“I’m outa here!

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

Two days later.

Detective Bryce came up with a working theory.

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

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

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

He needed his partner and a guide.

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

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

“Us?”

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

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

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

The next day.

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

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

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

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

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

Four days later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later on.

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

“Jimmy?” he asked.

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

A minute later Detective Jimmy came in with Chief Fitsimmons.

How are you doing partner?” Jimmy asked.

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

An awkward silence.

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

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

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

The Cave Dwellers

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I did. It still doesn’t fit right…”

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

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

Terry’s eyes glowed with defiance.

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

Bradley bent over and examined the skull closer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you think?” Bradley asked.

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

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

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

Cripes!” Bradley sputtered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What now?” Bradley softly asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They kinda looked like Bigfoots,” Bradley suggested.

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

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

I’m with you on that buddy!”

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

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

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

The Firebug

The crickets lusty cries for love were silenced as Charlie walked through the meadow.

He loved the night because fires burned so bright in it. He didn’t think of himself as a pyromanic. It was a crude term for someone who just loved fire. He didn’t go around starting fires. His uncle, nor his friends, suspected Charlie’s fascination for fire.

It was fire that took his parents lives. He, and his sister Susan, escaped the burning inferno that was once their home. They were raised by their father’s brother Wilbur, a bachelor whose greatest claim to fame was that he served four years in the Army without getting kicked out for bad conduct.

Susan and Charlie were inseparable. When Susan, the eldest, turned 20-years-old she got her own department. Uncle Wilbur, glad to give up the responsibility for a 16-year old boy, let Charlie move in with her. His part in raising his strange nephew and niece was over.

Although Wilbur never complained, he was always uneasy with his brother’s kids. He couldn’t manage to establish a bond with them. They were distant. Often in a world of their own.

Charlie’s love for fire was complex. He was shy and preferred to be alone when Susan went to work. He dropped out of school, and no one said anything about it.

Charlie’s favorite thing about the apartment was that it was near a National Forest, and he could take long walks there. The meadow that separated the apartment complex from the forest was carpeted with clover and grass.

One day, Susan was late in coming home. It was a first, and Charlie was worried about her. It was after dark when she returned. Her clothes looked rumpled and she had a gleam in her eye that Charlie didn’t recognize.

She assured him everything was fine, and that she had just forgotten about the time because she was involved in a big project at work. Satisfied that she was okay, Charlie went outside for his evening stroll.

He almost reached the tree line when he saw the fire!

The blaze shot high in the sky fueled by spruce and pine trees. It licked the night sky and Charlie eye’s riveted to it. He stopped walking, and stood there staring in a trance. “So beautiful,” he thought.

Even though the fire was miles away, he could imagine the sound it made. Firefighters would have their work cut out tonight. He watched for hours until he was too tired to stand anymore. When he went to bed he closed his eyes and saw red flames.

Susan began to come home late more often, as the weeks went by. Charlie figured that she might have a boyfriend and didn’t want him to know. He thought about talking to her about it. Letting her know he was okay with the idea. He always knew they would go their own way some day.

One evening he decided to be adventurous, and walked downtown with the intention of going to a movie. But as he got closer to the theatre there was a traffic jam on Main Street and people were pouring out of a building screaming!

Then he saw the smoke and looked up at the back of the theatre building. Flames were bursting through the roof and streaking skyward! Charlie watched as they grew like a living thing!

The first fire truck had to fight its way through a panicked crowd of people. As the fireman went about their job, some people ran out of the blazing theatre. They were human torches!

First responders, paramedics and fireman, did what they could for those unfortunate people, but it was hopeless. They died writhing in agony. In the middle of the chaos, still standing in the street, Charlie watched…transfixed.

Soon, police were driving people off the street. The entire building was burning and the fierce flames lit up the entire night. Charlie was told to leave with the others who were still near the fire.

On his way back to the apartment Charlie went from exultant to sad, as he thought about the human torches. They didn’t burn very bright. Their agony touched him. But the flaming building touched him too. The sheer power of the flames made him giddy.

When he got home Susan was there. She was sitting at the kitchen table wrapping gauze around her hand and arm. Alarmed, Charlie asked, “What happened?”

“Sit down brother,” she said.

Charlie pulled up the other kitchen chair, and obediently sat down.

“I have a confession to make. I’m a firebug. I’m telling you this because, I have to go away and I want you to lead a somewhat normal life. If there is such a thing. I set the fire at the theatre tonight.”

She waited for the news to sink in, but Charlie seemed unfazed.

“I started the fire that killed Mom and Dad!” she confessed, as a tear ran down her cheek. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me Charlie! I’m obsessed with fire. Always have been.”

Charlie didn’t judge her harshly. She was his big sister and always took care of him. He understood why she had to leave. There was a chance she left clues and would get caught. Then they would lock her up. They might even kill her for her crime.

He loved his sister and he loved to watch a roaring fire. He knew that someday she would get caught. He couldn’t bear that.

When she finally went to bed that night he was still up…waiting. He felt no attachment to the world. When he was sure she was asleep, he went into her room and smothered her. He went around the apartment gathering flammable liquids like lighter fluid, and went back to her bedroom.

He lit a fire in the kitchen, the living room, and her room. He sat on the edge of her bed and watched as the flames grew…transfixed as always.

As It Stands, this portrait of a firebug is an experiment at looking into the mind of someone I never met.

Fear

They met during the night like thieves planning a robbery.

But they weren’t thieves. They were some of the most prominent people in Elsdale’s population of 1,623. Community leaders led by the small town’s mayor, Jasper Corning, a corpulent man who found walking difficult.

Ever since the family of strangers moved in, people talked about how different they were. Of particular concern, they were Muslims. The two women wore hijabs that covered their head, hair, and necks.

The three men wore traditional Taqiyahs (round caps) and had long dark beards. To the white majority of Elsdale it was like being invaded by a foreign country. They spoke another language and lived by Sharia Law, which the townspeople feared would somehow take over the American system of justice someday.

The two women, Manahil and Eshal, went to the general store, and the post office, once a week. Every purchase they made at the store was scrutinized by the owners who shared their observations at the VFW bar every evening.

The postmaster worried every time a package came for the Muslims that it might have bomb-making materials inside. They got lots of letters in their post office box. It was always packed tight by the time the women came by for their weekly visit.

The Muslims lived in an old two-story house just outside the city limits. When they purchased the house – with cash – word quickly got around town. Very few people had actually talked with the Muslims. Mostly Manahil and Eshal when they were on their weekly errands.

Hector St. George, the towns only banker, talked with the three brothers, Aaban, Rayyan, and Zayan Azimi, while handling the transaction. The bank had repossessed the house years ago, and no one seemed interested in buying it.

Until then the Azima brothers appeared with lot’s of money. They even opened a bank account, which secretly thrilled St. George (he didn’t want the others thinking he was getting chummy with them) who worshipped money more than any god.

The towns sheriff, Roscoe Winters, a Vietnam veteran with undiagnosed PTSD, spends most of his time on a computer reading about conspiracies in America, and drinking too much at the VFW bar.

As the weeks turned to months, the rumors surrounding the Muslims grew like a malignant cancer. They held orgies; the men were secret ISIS members; there was a stockpile of weapons in the old house, and on it went.

Fear replaced curiosity in the little community after six months. When the women came to town they could feel the tension, as accusing eyes followed their every move. As the stares seemed to grow more malignant they told the men what was going on.

The three brothers were dismayed, but not surprised. They seen this kind of thing before when they bought their first house in upstate New York after immigrating to America five years ago.

When their parents were murdered by extremists in Iraq they took the family fortune and fled. Two of the brothers, Zayan and Aaban, were married to Manahil and Eshal. The eldest brother Rayyan never got married, because his childhood sweetheart was viciously murdered by thugs before they could.

Fear finally materialized into action.

That’s why the community leaders were gathered at night in the mayor’s house. The rumors had some of them fearing for their lives. The sense that one day they would attack the town with automatic weapons shouting “Allah Akbar!” swirled among the group, sending shivers down some spines.

“Okay boys…settle down. What are we here for?”

“Because you asked us too Jasper,” Larry Henderson, the general store owner, replied.

“Thanks Larry. Now that that’s established, what are we going to do about the Muslims?”

“I think we ought to search their house and see what they’re up to,” John Baker, the postmaster said.

“There’s one problem with that Johnny, it’s called a search warrant. I don’t have one,” Sheriff Winter said, after downing a shot of 20 year-old Scotch.

The group broke out into a babble of suggestions that were going nowhere when the mayor shouted, “Enough! We ain’t getting a damn thing done here crowing like a bunch of roosters with no hen in sight!”

The room settled down to inaudible grumbles.

“Here’s what we can do. Larry, you can say you overheard the two women talking about making bombs. The sheriff can go to the county judge tomorrow and get a warrant to search their house. How’s that sound?”

Murmurs of agreement echoed around the room.

“I’ll leave before noon tomorrow to go see Henry (the county judge) and get that warrant. Right now I’m going to have a few beers. Anyone with me?”

Everyone in the room, except the mayor who was sitting in his favorite office swivel chair, followed the sheriff out the door and into the night.

The next day.

Sally Yates, a waitress at the only restaurant in town, “Chuck’s,” was the first to hear the roar of motorcycles. The noon crowd had thinned down to two old customers who were known to spend most of the day there drinking coffee and talking.

The loud intrusive roar made her look out the window. Her pulse quickened in fear as the riders of six motorcycles dismounted from their Harley’s. They were all members of the Mongols, one of the most feared motorcycle groups in America!

Sheriff  Winters had a shot of bourbon with Judge Henry Goodnight in the judge’s library. The judge had signed the warrant without question.

Back in town.

The bikers took over the restaurant and chased the two old men away. They were having fun baiting Sally who gamely tried to pretend everything was all right while taking their orders. The fun and games finally stopped, and their leader assaulted Sally!

Later the bikers roamed around town looking for more trouble. They went into the general store, and when Larry tried to stop them from helping themselves to whatever they fancied, they beat him and left him for dead!

Then they helped themselves to the hand guns behind the counter in locked cabinets. They broke the lock off with ease, and the leader passed them out to the others. He located the ammunition and gave each a box.

Armed, they went back out and headed for the VFW Hall. By now, people had seen them and were running for cover. The main street was deserted by the time they reached the VFW Hall.

The patrons inside didn’t have a chance. They were caught unawares and herded over into a corner of the room, while other gang members looted the bar. The group settled in for some serious drinking.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Winters didn’t even notice the main street was deserted. It was getting near dark and his first thought was to go to the VFW Hall for a quick drink, or two.

The room went silent when the sheriff walked in. Someone dropped a bottle on the floor and the shooting began! Rosco was hit immediately in the left arm, but he manged to draw his service revolver and return fire!

One of the biker’s spun around and fell to the floor, bleeding from a chest wound. Bullets sprayed the room like angry bees as everyone tied to get out of the line of fire. Rosco was hit again in the right side of his chest but kept moving and somehow got out the door and into the street.

A lone biker followed him and popped off two misses. Rosco turned and calmly fired back at him. One of the bullets found its mark and the biker staggered back inside the VFW Hall, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

Rosco summoned up the last of his strength and headed towards the nearby general store. Larry lay near the doorway, battered beyond recognition and barely alive. Rosco went to him and looked for a pulse. He was alive. Rosco’s wounds weakened him so much that he passed out.

Manahil and Eshal felt more uneasy than usual when they got to town. The streets were deserted. They went inside the general store and found Larry and Rosco passed out on the floor. Larry’s wounds soaked his shirt with blood.

The women quickly checked them out and found gauze, band aids, and tape, and treated them both right there. Eshal was looking at Larry’s wounds and easily recognized them as bullet holes. She had seen her share in war-torn Iraq.

Manahil went to the phone on the counter but only got a buzzing. Someone had cut the phone lines. Making a bold decision she told Eshal that she was going for the men. She knew Rayyan would know what to do.

He had fought in the Iraqi armed forces until Saddam Hussein took over, and he had to run from the purge that followed. He was a captain in the special forces. The other two brothers had no military experience, but grew up in hard times when they had to use weapons to survive the government’s attacks.

Rayyan listened calmly as Eshal told him what she found. Nodding he turned to his brothers and said, “We cannot let these people be slaughtered by those men. Allah would never forgive us.”

The brothers both nodded, and the three of them headed for town.

When they got to the general store they found Manahil listening to the sheriff’s heart. She looked at Rayyan and said, “He’s barely alive. We must get a doctor.”

Meanwhile Zayan and Aaban were behind the counter picking a lock on a chain that covered a row of rifles. There were repeating Winchesters, hunting rifles, and two AR 15’s. They took the two AR 15’s and asked Rayyan what he wanted.

“The Winchester is fine,” he said as they rummaged for ammunition.

As the three men set out to find the bikers Rosco woke briefly, “The VFW building,” he croaked and passed back out again.

The biker’s Harley’s were still parked in front of the restaurant. Rayyan started one up and gunned the engine! He drove it down the street and sat outside the VFW Hall. Zayan and Aaban both pulled up next to him, and they all three revved their engines.

Inside, the sound immediately caught the biker’s attention. One of them was dead, and another was badly wounded. Three innocent hostages were killed by errant bullets. The remaining four Mongols roared in anger and charged out the front door…into a hail of gunfire!

The next day.

Sheriff Winter’s got help in time by the town doctor, who was able to stabilize him and have him transported to the country hospital in nearby Turnsville. County police and the FBI were all over the town talking to witnesses and processing the crime scenes.

Mayor Corning was visiting Rosco when he handed him a piece of paper. It was the warrant.

“What about this,” he asked.

Rosco took it, and tore it in half.

“It’s about time we quit letting fear rule our lives,” he said.

As It Stands, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “There’s nothing to fear, but fear itself.”