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 Hunter and the Gorilla

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Avery’s passion was to kill (and mount) rare and endangered animals.

He would go to any length to hunt one for his private collection. There was never a question of morality with his hobby. He was unencumbered with a conscience. Free to think independently. He was a self-made man, an inventor who earned millions from the many patents he owned.

It took two years for his private museum to be built near his favorite mansion in Blue Sky, Colorado. He took out his previous kills that were in storage and displayed them in natural-looking scenes. He spared no expense in lighting and stage craft for each animal. He looked forward to sharing his private museum with his fellow hunters who thought nothing of laws when it came to the chase.

As he inventoried his collection he realized that he was missing a key animal. The endangered mountain gorilla. In particular, a silverback gorilla. So, he went on his computer and started to make arrangements for a hunt in Rwanda. He’d have to call all of his connections in Africa to arrange such an illegal hunt.

The Virunga Mountains, Western Rwanda

Rwanda’s largest National Park, Parc Nacional Volcans, is a haven for rare and endangered mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. It’s home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains.

Deep in the forest there roamed one particularly large and intelligent Silverback gorilla. He was the leader of a troop of 50 gorillas. At six-feet tall and 500 pounds he was unopposed by males from other troops. Like most gorillas he could eat 40 pounds of food a day.

He preferred to eat vegetation such as wild celery, shoots, roots, fruit, tree bark and tree pulp, but had no problem eating small animals and insects in a pinch. The lordly Silverback spent his mornings and evenings eating. The middle of his day was spent napping or playing with other gorillas. Submissive gorillas groomed him until he sent them away.

The dominate Silverback and his troop claimed a territory of 16 square miles. This Silverback however, was like no other because he was highly intelligent and had the thought process of a man. He spent his life watching humans from afar and quickly determined they were dangerous when they carried certain objects that made a loud bang and killed up to a long distance. Without their weapon, he realized, they were practically helpless. Years of observation taught him a lot about hunters and the local natives. Under his leadership, none of his troop had fallen prey to the professional big game hunters. He taught them to avoid men at all costs. The big Silverback often felt lonely with his complex thoughts, but members of his troop always cheered him up.

It was raining the day that Avery showed up with two guides at the foot of the Virunga Mountains. They pitched a tent and waited for the rain to stop. When the rain subsided a blue bird with a purple comb, and a yellow and orange beak, cried out in alarm. Other birds picked up the cry and carried it deep into the jungle.

The big Silverback knew what the birds were saying. Danger. Men nearby. He got up from his nest of leaves, cutting his nap short, to investigate. Before he left he warned his troop not to come in contact with the deadly men. Then he plunged into the forest in search of the enemy. It was dark before he discovered their camp. They had barely penetrated the vast forest’s interior. There were two tents. A lantern glowed inside one of them. He could see there was only one shadow inside. Then someone merged from the other tent. A Rwandan guide. He started walking directly towards the Silverback’s concealment. He stopped just short of the tree the Silverback was hiding behind, opened his cargo shorts, and relieved himself. The smell of the warm piss suddenly enraged the Silverback who roared and went after the guide! The man tripped just outside his tent and screamed! The Silverback pounded his ham-sized fists into the guide’s face and torso. In his blind rage he sank his fangs into the man’s neck.

Another guide popped his head out of the tent, saw the angry gorilla and ran for his life. Avery stepped outside of his tent with a high-powered rifle just as the Silverback slammed into him!

The power of the charge sent Avery flying backwards a few feet. The Silverback pounded his chest and roared in rage as Avery, still on the ground, pulled his pistol out and shot him! The Silverback felt a flash of pain in his chest and realized he had to run away. Avery fired five more times at him as he tore through the bushes. Two of the bullets hit him. One in his right arm. The other in his back. His blood pumped out rapidly as he lumbered through the thick undergrowth and vegetation deeper into the interior. He knew he’d made a fatal mistake in confronting the camp.

Avery bent over and tried to get his breath as his chest pounded in pain. He suspected he had broken ribs. It didn’t matter though, he told himself. He was going to get that Silverback. It would be the crown jewel of his collection. When the other guide returned he helped wrap Avery’s torso with Ace Bandages. He had to double the guide’s fee for him to go on. Despite the pain Avery was insistent. He’d get his trophy.

Two of the young males in the Silverbacks’ troop found him sitting down with his back against a tree. They immediately knew something was wrong and chattered fearfully while picking at his wounds. Their wails of alarm attracted other members until soon the whole troop surrounded him. Some of the females cried and hugged their offspring as they sensed the severity of the Silverback’s wounds. Finally he was able to get enough strength to stand up and called for the troops attention. He called one of the larger males over to him. The Silverback had discovered this male was as smart as he was. Sparing no time he instructed the male to lead the troop into new territory. Further into the vast mountain network. The male accepted his role and herded the troop away, leaving the Silverback to die alone.

It took two days for Avery to stumble across the dying Silverback. He looked at him defiantly and showed his teeth as Avery raised his rifle to finish the job. Then a pack of angry mountain gorillas, led by the smart male, swarmed over him and the guide! They were flung around like rag dolls until they quit moving.

Afterwards the gorillas covered the dead Silverback in leaves, as the smart one, their new leader, instructed them.

As It Stands, this tale is in recognition of the endangered animals on our planet.

Peter’s Supernatural Super Band

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

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

Peter was a mystery man with no known surviving family members. He was a self-made man, and a wizard. His ability to predict when stocks would go up, or down, or even the future, came from long years of training by the Coven that raised him.
When the witches sent him out on his own he was 21-years old and savvy in the ways of the world. Getting rich was easy. Entertaining himself was more difficult at first. Until he discovered a love of music.
It became all-consuming. He went to operas and rock concerts for years before developing a passion for musical instruments. Then one day a Wall Street trader acquaintance asked him if he would be interested in buying a rare piano?
“How rare?” Peter asked.
“It’s been hidden for seventy-five years, and it’s owner no longer wants it. It’s the last Grand Piano Sergei Rachmaninov played on Russia soil before the Leninist regime seized his estate near Tambov in 1917, ” his acquaintance explained.
“He moved with his wife and two daughters to Denmark before relocating to New York the following year. Left behind was this European-made Grand Piano hidden by a first cousin who later smuggled it into the United States, and a safe warehouse,” he added.
“It’s condition?”
“Excellent. An expert has kept it in tune.”
“Why sell it now?”
The owner is old, and perhaps getting a little senile according to his grandchildren. It seems he’s been visiting the warehouse for years “listening to Rachmaninov play,” and telling his grandson that the famous musician is the one playing the Grand Piano.
Peter smiled. the biggest smile he had for decades and asked, “How do I get this piano? Money is no problem.”

To Peter’s delight, the story was true. It wasn’t long before he was striking up stimulating conversations with Sergei Rachmaninov. It didn’t take him long to go in search of other famous musical instruments whose owners had died. He worked with all of his financial and magical connections to hunt down the objects of his newly discovered hobby.

His next acquisition was Jimi Hendrix’s favorite black 1968 Fender Stratocaster with a maple neck. Despite playing many different guitars, including some Gibson Flying Vs and Les Paul Customs, the Stratocaster was his baby. He was buried with it in 1970 after dying from a drug overdose.
It took black magic to retrieve the guitar, and to entice Jimi Hendrix to play it once again. He had to conjure up female groupies to solidify the arrangement but it was worth it. Peter never tired of listening to him play his hits like Foxey Lady, Purple Haze, and Wild Thing.

Keith Moon’s second drum kit – A Ludwick Black Oyster Super Classic – with 2 toms and a bass drum plus, the previously lost – but now found – original snare drum, cost Peter two million dollars. Moon, who died in 1978, was another restless spirit recruited by Peter, to play his favorite instrument. Peter found that he had a particular fondness of drums and managed to buy Jon Bonham’s first drum set – a four-piece Trixon in Sparkling Red. Bonham, who died in 1980, got along great with Moon, and the two played competing solos deep into the night. In fact, the men knew each other when they were alive.
Bonham would lead off with a Led Zeppelin’s song like Fool In he Rain, showing off his speed, power and fast bass drumming, while Moon would counter with I Can’t Explain, one of the Who’s first big hits.
The real score in drums came when Peter had to pay a thief to steal Buddy Rich’s original drum setup. It included a 14×24 bass drum (with a moleskin patch and a wooden beater), a 9×13 rack tom, two 16×16 floor toms, and a 5×14 snare drum.
His Avedis Zildjian cymbals, which included a 20″ ride, two 18″ crashes, a pair of 14″ hi-hats, and a 6″ splash, shimmered as Peter looked at them. The set had his preferred wood-tip sticks—slightly heavier than a pair of 7As.
Buddy (also conjured up by Peter), died of heart disease in 1987. He was widely considered one of the most influential drummers of all time and was known for his virtuoso technique, power and speed. He never failed to bring the house down with a solo performance of a medley of songs from West Side Story.
With Buddy, Peter had assembled a trio of drum-players for the ages. To him, the cacophony of noise they all made when jamming was the music of the spheres.
It took a long time to find just the right brass trumpet. He finally found one made by Henri Selmer of Paris for Louis Armstrong. He managed to entice Satchmo to stop in a couple of nights a week and jam with his supernatural band. Armstrong always opened the evening with a soulful hit that made him famous; What a Wonderful World.

As the years went by he coaxed other dead famous singers and musicians to come by his mansion and perform. Some on a regular basis, and others like Elvis Presley who only came by on Sundays. Some came by a couple of days a week like Duane Allman.
Every night stars like Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin, Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, and Minnie Riperton could be seen mingling in rooms throughout the vast mansion. The Grateful Dead’s pianist Keith Godchaux, and Sergei Rachmaninov were perhaps the oddest pair to listen to, as one would play a few notes, then the other would follow them up with his own until the two styles wove a magic that captivated listeners.

As Peter got older he finally decided to share his supernatural collection of stars and invited special friends to spend the night, to hear the poltergeist’s talk about their careers and play their favorite instruments until the dawn.

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

Relentless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You didn’t tell the police this?”

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

“What happened?

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

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

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

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

That brings us up to right now.

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

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

What’s that?

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

As It Stands, revenge is best served…slowly.

The Man In Room 313

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Emmett Westerly had seen his share of strange people as a hotel clerk at The Whitmore Towers for 25-years. None stranger however, than the man in room 313.

He was living there before Emmett was hired in 1936. His neighbors never saw him during the day. Whatever chance encounters occurred were brief and at night. His name was Christopher Ward Cummings III. He was a tall thin man who wore a black hat and a three-piece suit. The brim of the hat was always tilted forward, partly obscuring his smoldering dark eyes. It made him look like a stereotypical spy in the movies. He seldom spoke. In all of Emmett’s years at the Whitmore, he only heard him speak a handful of times. His voice was memorable. Buttery, but threatening at the same time.

When not on duty, Emmett had a small room behind the main desk. It was all he needed being a single man. He ate all of his meals at the hotel’s first floor restaurant which was open 24-hours a day. He went to the movies once a week, which satisfied his sense of adventure, along with his hobby of reading Hollywood monster magazines. His love life consisted of an occasional tryst with a married woman in room 422.

Christopher Ward Cummings III never lost sight of his mission in life.

He’d been hunting vampires for 30-years and lived like one in order to track them down. He went out into the streets of the city every night, searching for bloodsuckers stalking neighborhoods; armed with a wooden stake, a gun with silver bullets, and a long knife he used to cut off heads. He inherited the job. As did his father before him. The Secret Society he belonged to had a long history of killing vampires. They started out in Europe, but soon worked their way to the New World as reports of vampires there surfaced. The migration began long before Christopher was born.

He, like his peers in the Knight’s of St. George, knew that some vampires were just too powerful and it could be a suicide mission to attack them. But he did anyway. It was in his DNA. Their war was thousands of years old, going back to when mankind still lived in animal hide tents and ate raw meat. Christopher descended from a long line of royalty in Spain that was said to have driven the vampires from the country.

A typical night adventure.

Christopher has been lurking for hours behind a car parked directly across from a nightclub in the seediest section of town. His patience pays off when he spots a man and a woman come out of the club. She can barely walk. The man is supporting her and heading for a nearby alley. He waits until they disappear around the corner of the old brick building before running up to the alley entrance. Crouching like a big cat he slowly enters the alley with gun in hand. The thirsty vampire has the woman leaning back into the wall and has peeled her blouse off to get at her throat. She is unconscious and unaware of her looming fate. Taking careful aim at the bloodsucker, Christopher fires two rounds into its body!

The creature whirls in agony as the silver bullets weaken it enough for him to approach with his knife and cut off its head! The woman slides down into a heap at the base of the wall. Still alive, although unconscious. He pulls out a burlap bag he brought with him and puts the vampire’s head in it…careful to avoid the fangs of the still snapping jaw. Much like a snake’s head when severed.

Before the night ends he buries the head in a deep hole, after setting it on fire.

Two nights later.

Emmett was reading a monster magazine when a stranger wrapped in a black cloak with hood approached the check-in counter and asked what room Christopher Ward Cummings III was in? Annoyed at the interruption Emmett brushed him off, “We don’t give out that kind of information at The Whitmore,” and started to go back to his magazine. The stranger reached out with a pale skeletal hand and tore the magazine violently away from him!

“What room did you say he was in?” he growled.

“I didn’t…take it easy pal. It’s against the rules for me to tell you that. I just work here. I can take a message of you’d like?” he offered weakly.

The pale face under the hood grimaced angrily, and his eyes burned like red coals in the sunken sockets that stared at him. That mesmerized him. That ordered him to tell what room Christopher was in. For hours afterward he sat staring into space until someone shook him.

“Hey Emmett! Are you okay buddy?” the night watchman asked, concern in his voice. “I was making my rounds and saw you sitting here like a zombie, and had to check on you. Long shift, eh?”

“Yeah…that’s it Larry. Thanks for checking anyway.

As the watchman headed for the elevator Emmett tried to clear his head. He vaguely remembered what happened. Like a bad dream. The next night was busy because it was a Friday night, and people were coming and going constantly well into the late hours. To his surprise he saw Christopher come out of the elevator and walk over to him. His curiosity climbed the wall as he waited to hear what he wanted.

“I had an unwanted visitor last night,” he said with a dark edge to his voice. “My question for you is, did you give out my room number?

Horrified at the accusation, Emmett’s mouth turned to cotton as he tried to frame a reply. “I couldn’t help it,” he confessed. Christopher’s expression softened. “Describe the stranger who approached you.” 

After Emmett was done he nervously waited for Christopher’s reaction to his description.

“Yes. I thought so. The clumsy bastard tried to ambush me in my own room last night. You should know that he was a vampire.

“Was…?

“Oh yes. I have his head in this bag. It turned out all right this time, but we must come up with a plan to avoid it happening again. Think about it will you? I have business to finish now.

“Yes…yes, sir. I’ll think about it all right.”

He watched Christopher walk out into the night with his bag. Afterwards, he pulled out his stack of monster magazines from under the counter, and unceremoniously dumped them into a metal trash can.

As It Stands, when fantasy and reality collide, it’s time for a new hobby.

Down The Sewer and Back

 

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Stephen was walking and texting when he stepped into the open sewer hole and entered another universe.

“I’m going to be late because…” the text ended, leaving his wife wondering what happened to him.

The first thing he noticed was the sky was a sinister shade of burgundy. He was standing in the middle of a stream of lemmings following a pit bull dressed like the Pied-Piper in children’s books. A flock of orange cranes carrying UPS bundles settled down within yards of where Stephen stood. His cell phone slipped out of his fingers and onto the yellow sponge-like turf.

He knew that this was not a drug trip. He’d been clean for three years and regularly attended Narc-a-Non. Somehow that didn’t make him feel much better. There was no rational reason for him to be standing in another world. He pinched himself on the cheek and it hurt like hell. “Now what?” he asked out loud, as the flow of lemmings continued unabated.

“I need to move,” he told himself.

As soon as he started moving in one direction the sky darkened and he saw flashes of lightning scissoring in the sky. The low rumble of thunder carried through the valley he was entering. Within minutes the rain came down so hard he had to stop and take cover next to a boulder that glowed in the night. A voice coming from the boulder asked Stephen what he was doing?

“Taking cover from the rain,” he replied, as the rain suddenly stopped.

“You’re in my space,” the boulder complained.

“I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that...”

“Aware! You’re not aware of anything you scatterbrain! Boulders have feelings too, you know!”

“I must have been distracted,” Stephen suggested, “by the pouring rain.

“Well, it’s not raining now, so you can move on.”

Stephen took the hint and walked towards a little village on a distant hill. The yellow turf gave way to a red brick road that snaked gently through the valley. By the time he got to the village, the day had given way to night. He saw crude lanterns in windows of huts that also resembled little bunkers. There was no one in the streets as he walked along peering into windows that seemed very small to him. Even the doors were small. To small for him to walk in.

As he looked around for somewhere he could sit, a group of cell phones with arms and legs came out of the shadows of a nearby alley. They surrounded him.

“We don’t take to your kind here,” a Samsung Galaxy S8 with a baseball cap on warned him.

“What kind?” he stupidly asked.

“Humans, you moron! You just use and abuse us, then throw us away like junk!” the Galaxy S8 accused him.

“It’s not true! I love my iPhone.”

“Oh yeah? So where is it right now?”

That stumped Stephen. “I dropped it after falling into this wacky world.”

“Yeah…well, we know where your cell phone is. We’ve given it sanctuary in one of our villages.”

“Wait a minute! I paid good money for that little piece of technology!”

“That alone, tells me you’ve been verbally abusing your cell phone and treating it like a lifeless thing.”

Stephen looked around at the circle of different makes and brands of cell phones, noting they all stood with their arms crossed signifying their determination for him to leave.

“Hold on. There must be some way that I can have another chance with my cell phone. I really depend on it. I make sure to keep it charged at all times. I put it in a protective carry case to avoid injuries. I got extra insurance on it, so I could be assured it would get fixed quickly. I sleep with my cell phone for God’s sake!

A Samsung Galaxy Note9 spoke up, “You sleep with your cell phone?

“That’s right. I always have.

The Galaxy Note9 turned to the Galaxy S8 and said, “Maybe we ought to reconsider and let him meet with his cell phone on neutral ground.”

The group of cell phones agreed, and a time was set for the next morning.

In the growing light of morning the burgundy sky was streaked with flashes of orange and yellow. Stephen got up off his bed of yellow turf and stretched. He realized how much he missed his cell phone when it appeared with the group he met yesterday.

There was an awkward silence before Stephen spoke. “Listen, I’m sorry I dropped you and walked away. I wasn’t thinking straight.”

“Does that mean you’re going to focus on me more, instead of multi-tasking and getting us in trouble?

“Yes. I need you.”

The Galaxy Note9 turned to the others, “Looks like things are okay with them. We can go now. There’s a video game tournament in the town square this afternoon.”

Stephen and his cell phone watched them leave. He held his cell phone tenderly for a moment, then carefully put it in his shirt pocket. It was time to move on, but in what direction?

“What a minute,” he said out loud. Pulling the cell phone out of his pocket he looked for the GPS app. “I’ll set the destination to 43rd street in downtown Philadelphia. That should get us to where we want to be.”

The cell phone said to go north. He set off confident that an end to this little nightmare would soon be over. As he walked along the skies got darker. There was no lightning this time. The rain came down in steady sheets as he plunged ahead using his cell phone’s compass and flashlight. Small rivers formed all around him as he splashed ahead with grim determination. Then darkness descended and he lost consciousness.

“Hey buddy? Are you alright? I called for help. It won’t be long now.”

Stephen’s eyes were closed as he listened to the voice. He was dizzy and disoriented. Then he thought about his cell phone and opened his eyes and looked at the man above him staring down from the sewer hole with a flashlight. A moment of panic hit him and he felt around for his cell phone. It was just a couple of feet away. He grabbed it and then started laughing…and laughing all the way to the hospital.

As It Stands, I hope you enjoyed my version of Alice in Wonderland, circa the 21st Century.

Two Stories From The Concrete Jungle

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Long ago, city dwellers lost touch with nature, turning instead to concrete jungles more deadly than any real ones in nature.

Untold stories of the lives of millions of people unfold every day across the endless concrete highways of the North American continent. Strange stories. Sad stories. Stories with no endings. Stories of crime, and redemption. They are all acted out on countless miles of concrete, connecting generations that died in back alleys and highways. Concrete is the symbolic skin of America baptized in blood and progress. Here are two such stories for your consideration.

THE CHRISTMAS BONUS

1936 – Chicago, Illinois

Nervous sweat trickled down Alberto “Big Al” DeSantis’s forehead as he waited for his quarry behind a row of dipsy dumpsters in the dark alley.

The partial moon lent an eerie glow to the scene and shadows from rats and cats skittered across the brick walls. A homeless man clutching a paper bag walked over to the dumpsters and began flipping unlocked lids open and looking inside. When he got to the end of the row, he swore. There was nothing worth taking. He brought the bag – with a bottle inside – up to his lips and emptied it in one long gulp. Then he threw it against the wall near where Big Al was hiding. Another curse, and the man shambled off into the night.

Just as Big Al was getting ready to move, he heard footsteps and froze. His quarry came into view. The man quickly walked over to a row of crates stacked behind a bar – Jimmy’s Place – and lifted one up and looked underneath it. Just the way Big Al planned it. The note. The promise of dirt on an enemy. And that it would be in this particular alley. He reeled Morty “The Fixer” Weinberg in like a fish. A barracuda was about to meet a shark.

When Morty couldn’t find anything, his instinct told him he was in trouble. He automatically reached for his gun, but was too late. Big Al’s Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) barked and six massive slugs ripped into Morty’s face and chest! He was dead before he hit the concrete. As a small pools of blood formed next to the corpse, Big Al put the still warm weapon under his trench coat, and casually strolled away from the carnage he created.

It was Christmas, and he was looking forward to getting home and celebrating with his wife and children. The fact that he just murdered a man in cold blood didn’t put a damper on his holiday spirit at all. Just the opposite. The boss, Salvatore Lucchesi, had a contract out on Morty for months and no one was able to fulfil it yet. Until now. Big Al expected a good Christmas bonus when he stopped by the clubhouse to report the good news. He went out to the street to his car and opened the trunk. He gently lowered the powerful weapon down and covered it with a blanket.

A gentle snowfall dusted the concrete as he looked for a parking place. He found one a block away from the club. When he stepped inside the club, after being greeted at the door by a guard, he inhaled the succulent smell of fresh pasta and sighed.

“We almost didn’t think you’d make it tonight,” Lucchesi teased Big Al while inviting him with a wave to sit at his table.

“Not only have I come to pay my respects on this holiday, but I also bring good news with me!” Big Al proudly said.

“Bravo! Have some wine and tell me what it is.

After a waiter poured him a glass, Big Al took a sip and replied, “You no longer have to worry about that bastard Morty Weinberg. He’s burning in hell! I whacked him!”  

A silence settled on the table. Wise guys turned their eyes away trying to hide their expressions. Big Al was confused. Why wasn’t everyone cheering? Why did Lucchesi have that funny look in his eye?

“A contract is a contract. Louie! Get me 30 g’s right now! Big Al has it coming.

The tension around the table worried Big Al. He couldn’t figure out what the source was. When Louie returned a had a small zippered cloth bag that he gave Big Al. His normally smiling face was grim.

“I’m true to my word mio amico! Here’s the reward and a Christmas bonus.

“Grazie mille!”

“Merry Christmas!” Lucchesi said, and pulled out a revolver. “How were you to know we had a Christmas truce with Weinberg’s gang? I’m going to have to save face now…”

The wise guys around the table were already moving backwards when he shot Big Al in the forehead!

Taking Pappy’s Advise

1913 Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Clete Peterson had no idea that he would be part of making history when he got a job building the first asphalt concrete highway in America. He was a 17-year old husky country boy who was thrilled to be getting good wages in return for back-breaking work clearing big rocks, roots, and natural obstacles out-of-the-way to pave a new road.

There were two crews working on the 24-mile long road. The common laborers like Clete, and the specialized crew that made and poured the asphalt concrete with its bitumen binder. The paved part was 9-feet wide, and the laborers were required to clear a 12-foot path in preparation for the historic road.

On the first day of the job, Clete and the rest of the laborers, quickly learned that their boss, Charles Putnam, was an ignorant bully who got the job because he had inside connections. He was a surly alcoholic built like a bear. His sheer size intimidated many men. Every day he set the same goal, regardless of the obstacles that had to be removed. When something prevented the goal from completion he went crazy. Like when a whole work day was lost removing a rock that turned out to be a boulder of considerable size.

That night he walked through the camp picking fights with the exhausted labor crew. The only man there as big as Charles was Clete. When Charles aggressively came up to him he held his ground despite fearing the older man. Clete’s pappy always told him to stand up to bullies. No matter what. Charles saw the fear in the younger man’s eyes, but he also saw a determination that he wasn’t sure he wanted to test.

“Y’all better put more effort in your work Peterson,” he warned him. “Feller yer size should be doing the work of two,” he taunted after spitting out a stream of tobacco juice on his boots. “I’ll be watchin ya boy!” he assured him, and turned away into the growing night towards his campsite.

“Hey, Peterson!” one of the men called out to him. He looked over and saw three men sitting around a campfire passing a bottle around.

“C’mon over. Be sociable,” another man urged,  holding up the bottle for him to see.

Another lesson Clete’s pappy taught him was to be sociable, and not to take on airs. So, he joined them. He gratefully accepted the bottle when it was passed to him and took a gulp. It was his first taste of alcohol and went down like pure fire! His pappy was a preacher and if there was one evil he always went on about…it was drinking liquor. The devil’s brew. As he gasped for breath the others laughed so hard they were rolling on the ground.

“Well, damn boy. I dint know ya was such a cherry!” the man who handed him the bottle said.

“My paps a preacher,” he gasped, “I need me some water,” he pleaded. One of the men handed him a canteen. “You’ll do boy!” he said. His partners agreed. They approved of the big young man with good manners.

The next day.

While digging away trying to unearth a big rock, Clete was surprised when someone pushed him from behind! He stumbled forward and caught his fall with the shovel.

“What the…?” he stammered.

“I warned you last night Peterson. You better pick that pace up!”

Sensing violence, the rest of the crew stopped what they were doing and watched the scene unfold between Charles and Clete.

“Reckon you better say you’re sorry for pushin me like that,” Clete warned him in a calm voice.

Charles’s reply was to slug him with a sucker punch! But it didn’t move Clete who stood there defiantly. He threw down his shovel and reached out and grabbed Charles’s arm and pulled him toward him. A ham-sized fist smashed into Charles face and blood splattered them both from his broken nose! He recovered from the blow and grabbed Clete in a bear hug. They wrestled around until Clete broke loose and hit Charles twice with thundering blows to his head that dropped him to the ground,  nearly unconscious. Without pausing, Clete jumped on top of him and choked him with all of his strength. By the time the work crew pulled the enraged Clete off their boss, he was dead.

To a man, they agreed to hide the events that led to Charles’s death. Afterwards Clete admitted that his pappy told him to never start a fight, but if he’s in one to finish it.

The story they gave authorities was a group of unknown assailants attacked their camp in the middle of the night and their boss was killed. Some speculated that it might have been a group of disgruntled Cherokees objecting to the road going through their sacred grounds.

Afterwards, the locals decided to dedicate a one-mile stretch of the new road to Charles Putnam – “A hero who died in the name of progress.

As It Stands, there’s so many more stories to tell,  I’ll never be able to share them all in this lifetime.