Bowling For Souls

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Boyd had a major heart attack while bowling and died. At the funeral, his family all said that at least he died doing what he loved.

The next thing Boyd saw after he dropped his bowling ball and died, was a giant bowling alley, and he realized he was standing in an empty parking lot. It was pitch black outside. The interior of the bowling alley was lit up like a lighthouse in a sea of souls.

He knew he was dead, but somehow it didn’t bother him. He’d devoted his whole life to bowling. He even won a state championship once. He didn’t have friends, and what family he did have, didn’t like him.

No wonder. He was a small selfish little man who had no empathy for others. Now, this bowling alley looked like heaven to him.

He walked up to the front doors and peered inside. The place was packed with people bowling. This was too good to be true, he idly thought. Then he was inside. The cacophony of bowling balls slamming into pins sounded like celestial music to him.

He wandered around for a while looking for a place to sign up and play. Then someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around and saw a middle-aged man wearing glasses too big for his face.

“You’ll be playing on Lane 13, against Stanley Benning in ten minutes,” the man told him and then blended back into the crowd. Turning back to the lanes, Boyd saw a projection above each one with different messages.

“You lose. Report below.”

Congratulations, you won this round.

“Good job. You’re one step closer to salvation.”

Boyd’s stomach started churning. Alarms were going off in his head. This wasn’t heaven. Was it hell? 

He zombie-walked over to Lane 13. A thin man with bright red hair was sitting at the scoring table. He was holding an animated conversation with himself.

“Why am I here?

Because you were a shit! 

Boyd waited until he stopped, then introduced himself.

Yeah right. I was expecting you,” the thin man with bright red hair, and whose name was Stanley Benning, replied.

“Is this hell?” Boyd asked.

“No, that’s the next stop from here, if you don’t win and make it to heaven,” Stanley said.

“Is God keeping score?”

“I have no idea. All I know, is that you have to win five games in a row against five different opponents to cash your ticket to heaven.”

“Do you mean,” asked Boyd, “that the good and bad souls all go here first?”

“Oh heck no! The good souls go directly to heaven. We’re somewhere between heaven and hell.”

Frame-after-frame they stay tied, until the ninth when Stanley left an open frame. Both of them bowled the game of their lives. Boyd was better that day, and won. Stanley simply disappeared.

Not sure what to do next, Boyd sat down at the scorer’s table. He watched the end of the lane intently waiting for a message. One down, four to go. He just might be able to pull this off he thought.

Then the projection on the wall read, Next Opponent…Earl Anthony!

Even though Boyd knew it meant he was going to hell, he couldn’t help but feel honored to get to play with one of the greatest PBA legends of all time.

As It Stands, I get a kick out of envisioning the hereafter!

Why The Music Must Never Stop

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The teacher told this story to his students one rainy day:

“You couldn’t call it Rock and Roll Heaven.

There were too many other types of music represented there.

It, where everyone was gathered, was somewhere between limbo and another life on a runaway asteroid.

A collection of souls that couldn’t separate themselves from their music.

From guitar devotees to tambourine fans, they followed their muse blindly. Pianos, drums, trumpets, French horns, tubas, guitars, harmonicas, accordions, violins, banjos, and harps all combined in a cacophony of sound that serenaded the stars every night.

The universal language of music attracted other life forms from solar systems across the galaxies. Celestial beings from Nimius, to the ethereal inhabitants of Anor Minor, listened to the music coming from the rogue asteroid.

The common theme among those musical souls – some referred to them as angels – was a message of peace and love.

Not far behind from where the angels dwelled, there was another asteroid. It was called hell.

It’s inhabitants were tortured souls, stuck in an eternal cycle of hate, greed, lust and vengeance. A collection of demons from every planet in three universes. Their cries haunted the cold cosmos.

Hell grew with hate, sucking it out of every living species and soul. Devouring hope and destroying planets with terrible technologies of the inhabitants own making. It was a powerful negative force that fed on fear.

Sometime in infinity hell crashed into the planet earth. Not long after that the angels appeared. Mankind, in it’s infancy, worshipped the angels and the demons. What became known as good and evil evolved among the human race.

The angels brought with them music in all its forms. The human race adopted the endless varieties of music to protect themselves from evil. As long as music was being played somewhere on the planet there was always hope.”

The teacher paused and looked at his eager young students, before saying, “That’s why the sages tell us that the music must never stop.”

As It Stands, I’ve always considered music a mystical thing with powers beyond our understanding.

The Hippie and the Hell Hound

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Listen up. I’m only going to tell this story once.

I’m a 72 year-old Hippie with pancreatic cancer, and I don’t give a damn if you believe it or not.

It was the Summer of 1967. Folks were calling it the Summer of Love afterwards.

All I know was there were 100,000 hippies, and wannabes, and a lot of crazy shit going down in the Height-Ashbury district.

The drugs flowed and everyone was talking about peace and love. Flower children were tripping on LSD, marijuana, reds, whites, shrooms, cocaine, smack, and opium.

What I’m about to tell you is true, even if you never read about it. There were a lot of deaths, hell I don’t remember the exact amount, that were written off as overdoses during that time. But the authorities knew better.

The victims were torn to shreds by some wild animal and partly eaten. The mayor made sure that fact never got out. Reports were coming in of a large dog that was attacking people.

I never saw the dog, but I know a lot of people who did. What kind of dog would hunt, kill, and eat people you’re probably thinking?

A Hell-Hound.

That’s right. You’ve heard of Werewolves right? Well, there are Hell-Hounds – a cross between a man and a Great Dane. Save your smile. You shouldn’t mock an old man you know.

I was hoping that I could tell you my full story, but I’m starting to think that might not be a good idea. Try to keep an open mind, and I’ll forgive your rudeness. How old did you say you were?

Okay. I got out of the City when that shit kept happening every night. I was truly blown away and never expected to experience something like that again.

Not too long after, I was at the Monterey Pop Festival. Wow. Still blows my mind. Can you imagine seeing Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Hugh Masekela, Otis Redding, Ravi Shankar, the Mamas & the Papas, the Who and the Jimi Hendrix Experience?

Jimi set his guitar on fire, broke it on the stage, then threw the neck of his guitar in the crowd. I was standing next to the guy that got it in the face by it!

The first night I was there a cute little Flower Child was murdered, and mutilated. I kept my ear to the ground and listened for the rumors. It only took another 24-hours before there was talk about a big dog attacking people. I wasn’t going to stay there knowing that a Hell-Hound was around.

Now I’m going to reveal my secret…

Wait a minute! That stupid grin again? I can see you aren’t going to be my biographer, the old hippie, and Hell-Hound barked before jumping!

As It Stands, wolves, hounds, why not Honey Badgers from hell too?

Escape From the Slaughterhouses of Het-Kre

sf183_ghoulTrent was one of a few lucky humans on Ridon to escape death before the warlords of Zurpt-Major obliterated it.

The attack came so quickly that the humans were overwhelmed.

If Trent and his crew of two weren’t test-flying the new ES Star Chaser in space, they would have been destroyed with the rest of humanity.

Ridon’s last three humans, Trent, Sally, and Rick, watched in horror for two days as the planet erupted into fireballs and turned into space debris. They only had one option left. Go to Xenalth.

Xenalth and Ridon had been allies for over 200 years. Travel back and forth was strictly regulated to visiting and going on tours. Xenalth had a more advanced civilization and technology, but willing became friends with the inhabitants of Ridon.

For unknown reasons the two species enjoyed each others company.

The crew of the ES Star Chaser approached Xenalth’s Intergalactic Landing Ports and waited for clearance. It only took a couple of minutes before their craft was given the okay, and directions to a parking pod.

Their first stop was Xenalth’s High Council headquarters. The Five leaders of Xenalth were waiting for them when they arrived at the council chambers. Lord Asherath, spoke for the others and said, “Are hearts are heavy for you. We monitored the attack on your planet with great alarm.”    

“We seek sanctuary great lords,” Trent said.

There was a flurry of voices among The Five. “Never happened.” “It’s against all rules.” “Where else can they go?”  

Trent and his crew listened through their translator earbuds.  Their fate was on the line. The discussion took about 30 minutes before Lord Asherath announced, “We cannot break our laws and let you live here permanently. However, we can grant you temporary asylum while you look for another planet to live on.”

Resupplied, the crew of the ES Star Chaser, went in search of another planet that could sustain them. The recently refined ship’s computer tracked other planets that could meet their basic requirements of breathable air, water, and proper gravity.

They found a possible candidate one day. It did have life forms, but that wasn’t necessarily bad. They landed at the edge of a lush jungle. There were dozens of dilapidated space ships scattered around in the open plain.

After securing the perimeter around the ship, they set out into the jungle.

It wasn’t long before they suspected they were being followed. Figures kept darting in and out of the heavy underbrush and trees alongside of them. Trent held his hand over his laser sword as he led the way.

They finally came into a large clearing with a dozen massive wooden buildings. Out front, stood a group of very short earth-like, heavily-muscled men, and women.

Their skin was a mottled gray, and they were naked, except for the sparkly charms that hung around their necks and wrists. The leader stepped up to them. He was the only one with something on his head; dull red ribbons of cured meat wrapped around his skull in a crude turban.

Sally came prepared, and pulled out a pair of translator earbuds which she handed him. She took hers out, smiled, and showed him how to put one in each ear. His eyes lit up with surprise, but he didn’t take them out.

In the ensuing conversation they discovered that the people lived in small clans, but all worshipped the same gods. They called their planet Het-Kre. There were thousands of clans who ruled the planet according to the leader, Huth.

He built a crude fire and they sat around on logs and rocks, talking for many hours. Rick was an intuitive guy. He was always able to read people by their eyes and body movements. That’s why he whispered to Trent that he didn’t trust their host.

Everyone slept outside. Rick agreed to take first watch. As the hours slowly crept by his curiosity about the buildings increased. Why not sleep in them instead of outside? He stood up and stretched.

The first building was just a few yards away. He walked up to it and peered inside. Too dark to see anything. Pulled out his utility light and shone it on the racks of…meat. But this meat had human-like faces that looked similar to Huth. And, meat from other species splayed open on drying racks.

Bodies were split open like cattle. They ran in neat rows. Troughs for blood. Drying skins hanging from the ceilings. It was a slaughterhouse. He rightly guessed that their main staple on this planet was the residents themselves, and any unlucky travelers that came their way.

He cautiously left the foul room and went back to where Tent and Sally were sleeping. “Time to go,” he whispered into their ears. Without question, they followed Rick back into the forest. After they’d gone a distance, Rick told them what he saw.

It was light when they made it back to the ES Star Chase. Back in space they talked about what to do next. “Let’s find a planet that no one else is living on and start our own civilization,” Sally said, with a coy look at them.

Both men smiled, and asked, “What shall we call it?”

As It Stands, I could see doing a novella on these three characters. What do you think?

The New Rural Route

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It was Al’s last day of work. He was ready to retire after 32 years of delivering mail in Scranton.

The postmaster turned over his regular route to the new man replacing him. All Al had to do on his last shift was deliver mail to a newly added small rural route south of town.

He suspected it was some kind of prank. A new route? First he’d heard of it. He’d play along though.

The postmaster and he were not friends. More like antagonists. The two tangled many times over the years.

It sure will be nice to not have to see his ugly mug anymore, Al thought as he hopped into the van.

As soon he turned onto Highway 33, he began looking for the road sign. It was supposed to be about three miles out. He almost passed the small blue sign that said Rural Route 47. He’d should tell the postmaster about that. Not that he’d care.

The exit was paved, but just a mile down the road the pavement gave way to a hard packed dirt road. The Post Office doesn’t supply 4-wheel drive vehicles, he thought, this road will be hell in the rainy season.

The road wound through a dense forest.  Rays of sunlight struggled to pierce the trees dense canopies on either side. He slowed down, straining to see a mailbox. A house would do too.

Finally. He came upon a row of twelve mailboxes. This might not be so bad if the other 24 addresses were going to be this easy he thought. Pulling out a bundle of letters he began stuffing them in the neat standard mailboxes. So easy.

In no time, Al was heading down the dirt road. He noticed it was becoming narrower as he progressed. It was down to a single lane when he saw a house on the right. It looked like something the Addams Family lived in. No mailbox either.

He parked the mail van in the poorly maintained driveway and walked the rest of the way to the front door. A mail slot. He pulled out a thin package (that really smelled bad) and a couple of standard size letters when a green tentacle shot out of the mail slot and snapped up the package!

Al stumbled backwards in shock. What the hell? What was that thing? He wasted no time in getting back to the van. Once inside with the door locked, he started taking a series of deep breaths.

I must have hallucinated, Al assured himself after a few minutes. But that smell sure seemed real. Steeling himself, Al shook off the incident and backed up onto the road. A short distance from there was another house that looked like it was built-in Victorian times.

It was more run-down looking with paint chipping off the wooden exterior. No mail box. This address had a small square package and several standard-sized letters to deliver. This time he had to leave the van parked on the road while he trudged to the front porch.

He set the small package down and slipped the envelopes into the door’s slot. Suddenly there was a loud unearthly howl! It sounded like a wolf. No. Worse. A pack of wolves! He didn’t stop running until he got back into the van.

Back on the road. No choice, but to go forward. Nowhere to turn around at. Al was done delivering mail to this creepy route. He passed another old house, but didn’t slow down. Still nowhere to turn around because of the densely packed trees!

Panic set in when he saw things chasing him. They were grotesque-looking things and more kept joining the race after him. He could hear shouts – almost human-like – demanding the mail!

The new guy at the post office asked about how Al did just before starting work the next day. The post master struggled to conceal a grin of satisfaction, and said, “I’ll bet he misses his old job already.” 

As It Stands, this story is dedicated to my buddy Larry, a post office retiree.

 

The Dentist’s Dilemma

The devil is in the details

p10003331Francisco Caputa, DDS, was ready for a life change in the summer of 1938.

He was sick of living in New Jersey, and had no roots to keep him there. His practice of five years was successful, but terribly boring.

That’s why when his cousin Alesandro Carbone called and said he was retiring from his dentistry practice in Bisceglie, Italy, he asked if anyone else was taking his place?

When Alesandro said no one was, a crazy thought went through his head. Move to Italy? His ancestors were from Bisceglie. He only spoke broken Italian, but the allure of moving to an exotic location like Italy was strong.

A month later, after selling his practice in the small town of Millstone, Francisco  moved to Bisceglie. At first, he stayed with his cousin while he searched for office space and an apartment.

Two weeks later he was ready to open. Alesandro helped him settle and vouched for him among the townsfolk. It wasn’t long before he had a steady flow of customers. The people were friendly, especially when they found out his family once lived there three generations ago.

A month later, while drinking at a bar, a drunk Allesandro was talking about the special visitors who sometimes came to get dental work done…at night. “They pay well, just don’t pester them with questions,” his drunken cousin warned.

That sounds strange to me,” Francisco responded, slurring his words while trying to focus on what his cousin was telling him.

“I assure you it’s an old practice, dating back hundreds of years, here in Bisceglie,” Allesandro explained.

Francisco woke the next morning with the worst headache in his life. He’d never consumed that much wine in one setting. While splashing water on his face at the bathroom sink, he vaguely recalled a conversation about “night visitors.”

Two days later an elegant card was hand-delivered to him. The beautiful hand-written script was bordered with Black Roses. It said: “Appointment at 9 p.m. I look forward to meeting you.” It was signed, Count Massimo Barzetti.

The hours slowly drug by. Francisco was torn between curiosity and dread as he puttered around his apartment. At ten to nine, he walked over to his office which was just a short way from the apartment.

Oddly, the streets were empty, unlike a few nights ago when he went on the drinking binge with Alesandro. He unlocked the door to his office and flipped on the light switch. No light. Frowning, he found his desk and lit the candle on it with his Zippo.

It was a small office with just two rooms. One with a dentistry chair and acudaments, and the other a bathroom. The waiting room consisted of his desk and three old wooden chairs by the window.

Promptly at 9 p.m., Count Massimo Barzetti, appeared outside the front door. He seemed to be waiting for something, so Francisco opened it for him. The tall thin man was dressed in a black casual suit and gold tie.

Once inside, he introduced himself and said it was time for his monthly cleaning and whitening. As surreal as it seemed, Francisco still managed to function and extended his arm towards the room with the dentistry chair.

“I’m going to need power,” Francisco said in a daze.

The count waved his arm and the electricty was restored. He then calmly got into the chair and leaned his head back.

When the count opened his mouth, Francisco reeled back in fear and loathing. The sharp fangs were tainted by old blood!

It’s really alright Mr. Carbone. Your great-grandfather was a good friend of mine. I must say, I’m pleasantly surprised to find out that my new dentist has local roots. It’s not in the contract, you know.”

“What contract?” Francisco managed to squeak in his suddenly high voice.

“It looks like your cousin forgot to mention this to you. He’s a sneaky one, I’ll give him that. As they say, the devil is in the details! According to the contract, there is only one Dentist allowed in Bisceglie, and he can’t quit his job until he finds a suitable replacement.”

The room started to spin and Francisco felt faint with fear. He had to ask what happened if the “new” dentist decided to leave?

The count smiled warmly and said he’d be locked up in his castle where he’d become a taste treat for his guests. “But it’s never happened before, and we’ve been doing this for untold generations.”

Francisco’s choice suddenly became crystal clear.

“When was the last time you flossed?” he asked.

As It Stands, I admit to having an unnatural interest in vampires.

 

Trouble In Dreamland

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The dreamers twitched nervously in their sleep.

I watch them breath.

Some are breathing too lightly for a good sleep. Something must be tormenting them. They are tossing and turning in their hospital beds.

My job, as the guardian of Sleep Land, was to protect sleepers from bad dreams. Nightmares could kill. I’m not sure how I got this job, or mission if you will, but I feel great satisfaction watching people wake up from a long sleep, rested and happy.

I don’t think many people would want my job. It does get stressful, and I’ve seen some horrendous things. But it was never my choice to become a guardian. That’s because I’m always sleeping. Been in a coma now for eight years.

I don’t know what will happen if I ever wake up. I quit thinking about it years ago. I’m comfortable with my routine at the hospital, checking in on patients all night. The hospital holds 200 patients. I manage to stop in on all of them before dawn arrives.

When I sense a patient is experiencing something unpleasant, I step into their dream to see what I can do to make it better. Usually, I end up dealing with small annoyances that flee when they see me.

There have been exceptions. I’ve dealt with nine full-on nightmares in eight years. Each time it becomes more exhausting, and I sense my body weakening.

Make no mistake. A nightmare is a powerful thing. It can even make people do evil things after they wake up. That was the case of four of the nightmares I confronted. Each patient woke up with murder in their eyes.

Luckily, none of the four were able to carry out their desire to kill someone. They all ended up in an insane asylums. The remaining five nightmares, were defeated in Sleep Land and they never made it to the patient’s consciousness.

I’m feeling a bit odd today. Normally, I don’t let my mind wander around the hospital during the day because it’s too stressful watching life-and-death situations. That’s when I spotted him! A nightmare in the making.

He was there to get surgery on his knee. An armed correctional officer accompanied him. The prisoner had facial scars from countless fights in the day yard. The guard, Eli Benson, had to stay with him (with the exception of the operating room) every moment until he was released by another guard taking his place.

The knee replacement surgery took place shortly after Benson and his prisoner, Hans Hartmann, arrived. Still asleep after surgery, Hartmann was taken to a special room that only had a hospital bed, and one chair in it. Benson took his place on the chair.

When I saw Hartmann’s nightmare a few hours later I knew what was going to happen.

As night descended, I prepared myself. I saw enough. Hartmann was going to kill the correctional officer, a nurse, an old woman there to visit her sick sister, and one highway patrolman outside the hospital as he was getting away.

I had to stop the nightmare from stepping into the daylight.

The nurse who was monitoring my vitals was startled. I was waking up! She called for the doctor on duty, and ran to my room. The bright light blinded me for minutes. I kept blinking, trying to focus my eyes. I felt a sense of urgency.

When the doctor came he was all smiles, and told me he’d contacted my sister about my miraculous recovery. For the next two hours, nurses unplugged me from monitors and took the feeding tube out of my throat.

When I was finally free of all the life-saving equipment I was able to talk. My voice was raspy and words were difficult to form. I was able to get the attention of the last nurse before she left.

She was in her forties and knew her way around the hospital and how to work with patients. I asked her to do me a big favor. Of course she agreed right away. I asked her to get a security guard and to go check on the room with the prisoner who had knee surgery yesterday.

She looked at me like I was crazy. I couldn’t blame her. I told her that I had a terrible dream and would really appreciate it if she would check on the prisoner. I could see the doubt in her eye, but my sudden awakening had an impact on her.

She said she would. I waited impatiently, wondering if it was too late. It seemed like eternity before she returned. There was awe in her eyes. The prisoner was caught fighting with the correctional officer. With the help of the security guard, Hartmann was overcome.

I’m waiting for my sister right now. Something bothers me though. Who will take my place, and be the guardian of Sleep Land after I’m gone? I was in the lobby when I saw my sister, and something else. My replacement.

A small group of family members were crying as a doctor told them their daughter was in a coma, and he wasn’t sure if she would ever come out of it.

As It Stands, the idea of being in a coma has always fascinated me, but I’m in no hurry to lapse into one and find out what happens next.