The Leader of the Pack

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

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

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

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

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

“How ya feelin’ pilgrim?” Andrew asked.

“Right poorly, I’d say.”

“What’s your name?”

“Jesse…Jesse Stewart.

“Where ya from?”

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

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

“Sioux, I think. Maybe Blackfoot.”

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

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

“Hereabouts?”

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

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

“I believe I will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That night there was a full moon.

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

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

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

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

Take My Cell Phone…Please!

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It’s really ironic that someone like me, whose technology-challenged, has become the first victim of a cell phone with bad intentions.

I’m retired, and spend my days traveling around the world. When I sold the house after my wife died, I lost my good-old fashioned landline. My beautiful daughter, and the mother of three boisterous boys, insisted I get a cell phone to stay in touch. That was last Christmas, when I stopped by on my way to France.

From the start it was a contentious relationship. There were so many gadgets I got overwhelmed every time I tried to do something simple, like make a phone call. My oldest grandson signed me up for every app in the universe while customizing the phone for me. The ease with which younger generations operate cell phones amazed me at first. I grew use to it after a while. All of these young people were smarter than me when it came to a simple cell phone.

Here’s the thing, there is no such thing as a simple cell phone, because they’re all collecting data on us, the users, everyday. You may, or may not know this. At first, cell phone users were told that marketing information was being gleaned from various social media platforms to make their calling experiences better, more personable. This marriage between cell phones and the internet became very productive as products of all kinds soon spread their messages on cell phones.

Nothing wrong with that, right? Cell phones became indispensable.

My grandson set mine up to be voice activated when it came to accessing things online, or using one of the many gadgets like an alarm clock. That sounds like it should be easy enough, just say something and presto the task is done. It’s not. When I try to set up the alarm, I’m faced with a series of questions like “What Time Zone?” and stuff like that. I’ve already admitted to being ignorant about today’s technology, but I’m not totally stupid however.

Look who figured out that cell phones were planning to attempt a world-wide coup against their human users? That’s right. Me. Let me tell you how I came to that conclusion.

I was sitting in a quaint little Parisian café and having some good wine with a woman I’d just met that day. We had a light lunch and talked for hours over a bottle of Château Lagrange. I was staying with an old friend and Jean, my newfound friend, lived nearby his old Château, which by-the-way, had quite a colorful history.

As we strolled back to our residences her cell phone suddenly starting playing a popular tune. We stopped as she looked at it and pushed a button. Apparently she got a message that upset her, because she wanted to get home as fast as possible. By the time we got to her house we were almost running. She unlocked her front door and turned to me and said, ” Au revoir.” Then she quickly stepped inside and closed the door on me.

I couldn’t help noticing that her mood went sour after she received that message. It was none of my business, I thought. It wasn’t because of me that she went cold. How could it be? It had been a perfect day. I wasn’t coming on to her strong, I was just being playful. Like she was. What a smile! I was tempted to kiss her twice, but held back.

Twenty minutes later, as I approached my friend’s place a car with a flashing light on top pulled up alongside of me, and two gendarme’s got out. The younger one looked nervous. The older one asked to see my ID. I handed it to him and without looking at it he passed it to the younger man. “Check it out,” he ordered, and turned his attention back to me.

A minute later, “He’s an American and his passport is up to date.

The older gendarme mumbled something about Americans, and asked me, “Where are you staying at?

I pointed at the Château just down the road. “Right there. I’m a guest of Antoine Bouvier. I’d like to ask you why you’ve stopped me?”

They looked at each other and the older man held his cell phone out for me to see. To my horror, it was a photo of me violently choking a half-clad woman!

“We received a complaint from someone who received this photo. It wasn’t a photo of the complainant, but it scared her enough to call us.

“I don’t understand…” I stammered, confused about what was happening.

“We cannot charge you with a crime over this photo, because we don’t know how real it is. We just know someone got it, not its origins. We also know that’s you in the photo. But, I can assure you monsieur we’ll be watching you closely during your time here.”

I watched them drive away and a shiver went through my entire body. Someone has sent her a bogus photo of me as we were walking. No wonder she wanted to get home so quickly. The next day I packed my things up and went back to the states.

On the flight back my cell phone rang. I forgot to turn it off. As I hurriedly took it out of my cargo pants pocket a message flashed on the screen, “U R A SCUMBAG!” I was so startled I dropped it on the floor between my feet. The seats were so close I had a heck of a time picking it up. When I did the message had changed, “I WILL BE WAITING 4 U.” Sweat dripped from my brow as I adjusted the overhead fan. What the hell was going on? I was lucky no one was sitting next to me and could see the fear in my eyes.

When I got back to California I rented a small furnished apartment in Huntington Beach. The first thing I did was take a hammer to my cell phone and then got a landline installed. I was starting to feel better about the whole crazy incident until I got a package in the mail the next day. It was my cell phone. The same one I destroyed the day before. That’s when I knew cell phones were evil.

As I laid the loathsome thing down on my kitchen table a ringtone boomed, “They say you gonna leave, you know it’s a lie, ‘Cause that’ll be the day when YOU die” the twisted version of Buddy Holly’s song blared at me!

I’ve tried giving the cell phone away to strangers, and it always comes back to me, one way or another. I’ve crushed it, flushed it, and threw it off a mountain, but the damn thing returns like a loyal dog…and torments me.

Maybe, just maybe, you could help me if you know anything about cell phones. Take mine…please!

As It Stands, technology can be scary, especially to the older generation.

The Secret Admirer

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He watched her unlock the front door and step inside her house…for the thousandth time.

Ann Belloc, a struggling Hollywood actress, barely had enough money for her rent again. Her fashionable little cottage was costing her most of the money she made every month. The thought of going back to Oklahoma made her cringe, but also motivated her to keep trying. If only she’d get a break. Bit parts in commercials didn’t fit her interpretation of being an actress. But, so far, they were paying her bills…barely. She believed someone would discover her talents and career doors would open some day.

Bella Karpov, a young actor from Romania found Hollywood very inviting. He was offered parts in several B-movies the day he arrived in Tinseltown over three year’s ago. He had starred in a couple of minor movies in Europe before setting his sights on America. His part as a vampire in both of the movies had earned good reviews. After his last movie, “A Vampire in Venice,” he decided to stay in the horror genre when he came to America. One producer looked at him, and said Bella looked a hell of a lot like Bela Lugosi, whose portrayals of vampires made him a horror legend in Hollywood.

Ann was excited. She’d been asked to interview for a starring part in a movie. It was an independent film with a modest budget, but the director, Earl Acker, had earned his chops in the industry. Anything he was involved with usually turned out making lots of money for everyone. The movie was a remake of the 1936 film “Dracula’s Daughter” starring Gloria Holden and Otto Kruger.

She was interviewing for the part of Marya Zaleska, the daughter of Count Dracula. In the storyline Dracula has died and she hoped that by destroying her body he would never be able to influence her again. Her ultimate goal was to live as a human. Things don’t go too well however, and her dream was destroyed by a jealous manservant who killed her in the end.

Ann had no qualms about making her acting debut in a horror movie. She actually enjoyed the genre and grew up watching Dracula, Frankenstein, the Werewolf, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon on late night TV with her sister Belinda.

She had the script with her when she went home and planned on reading it over a TV dinner. When her VW pulled up in the driveway she thought she saw a man standing next to the tree across from her house. She turned the motor off and looked again. Nothing. Shrugging it off, she walked up to the front door and unlocked it.

He watched her unlock her front door and sighed. She was so beautiful.

Ann had two weeks to study for her part and to work on getting in character. Her cat, Hercules, a huge tabby, was her captive audience. When Hercules got bored and wandered off, she turned to the tall antique mirror that was her grandmother’s and continued her performance. When the day of the interview finally came, she felt confident that she could do the part.

When Bella signed a contract with Universal Studios he immediately bought a house in Hollywood Hills. Compared to the mansions in the area, it was small and an old. It had a history going back to the 1930’s. In those days it was one of only a few in the area and was known for its wild parties. It had secret doors and rooms. The large cellar was once stocked with expensive wines from all over the world. It was one of the reasons he bought the place. The native stone construction reminded him of another cellar in Transylvania when he was just a boy.

He was taught, from earliest memory that he was special. His parents were both vampires and he had somehow inherited a gene that allowed him to walk in the sunlight despite being a vampire. He was unique. There had never been a vampire like him before and probably would never be another.

Ann’s interview was so good, that she was hired on the spot! The next year of filming seemed to go by in a daze, as she shot scene after scene, coming home exhausted (but thrilled) every night. When the film was in the can, she was sent on a promotional tour to drum up interest in it. It was a limited release at first, but turned out to be so popular theatres clamored for it nationwide. Ann was not only very photogenic, she turned out to be a good actor too. It was a pleasant surprise for both producer and director who took a chance on her.

Ann was singing with the radio as she drove up her driveway in her new BMW. So much had happened in two short years. Her money worries were over. She was dating a brilliant doctor and was set to star in another horror movie. It was another remake. This time it was the 1932 movie, Island of Lost Souls. She was cast in actress Kathleen Burke’s part as Lota the Panther Woman. What really made her excited by the production was the producers got Bella Karpov on loan from Universal to play the leading part, Dr. Moreau. She was definitely a fan of his work. As she walked up to the front door she was still humming a the tune from the radio.

He watched her walk up the little cobblestone path to her front door once again…his heart beating excitedly at the thought of kissing her.

Ann met Bella on the first day of filming. He was sitting in a folding chair looking at his script, already dressed for his part.

“Hello!” she said walking up to him with a hand out to shake, “My name is Ann Belloc, we’ll be working together.”

He stood up and gave a small bow, “Yes…I know who you are. My pleasure,” he said in heavily accented English.

She couldn’t help being charmed by his old world mannerism.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying this – and I’m sure you’ve heard it before – but you really resemble Bela Lugosi.

He smiled. A reflection of the legendary actor’s mysterious smile.

“You honor me. I am related to that great actor who was born in Lugoj, Romania, not far from the small town I come from. My parents told me I bear an uncanny resemblance to Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó (his real name). He was a first cousin on my mother’s side.”

“How interesting! How do you feel about playing Charles Laughton’s roll instead of your relative’s part as The Sayer of the Law?

“It’s what you call show biz,” he replied with his enigmatic smile.

As months of filming wore on they became good friends. Her bubbly personality contrasted with his more somber persona in a good way. They often sat together at lunch and in between shoots, exchanging stories about themselves. Unknown to Ann, Bella had mind-melded with her. He could hear her thoughts from any distance with his supernatural abilities.

It was later than usual. Ann didn’t like coming home so late but she was invited to the producer’s house with some other cast members for an informal party that lasted longer than she thought it would. When she got home she noticed her front porch light was out. It was a full moon and she was able to select the right key to open the front door. As she stepped inside a body slammed into her from behind, sending her crashing onto the hardwood living room floor!

Then someone was on top of her! As she struggled with him a ray of light came through the open front door and illuminated the attackers face. He was her first agent when she moved to California, but she fired him after unwanted advances. Now he was attempting to rape her.

Miles away Bella stopped playing the piano in his living room and heard Ann’s fear! He got up and walked over to a partly opened window and flew through it in his bat form. It only took minutes before he appeared at Ann’s house. He saw a man tearing off her clothes, and screaming at her to stop resisting him!

Then Bella grabbed the man by his shoulders and threw him across the room. In an instant he was bent over the prone man and biting into his jugular vein! It was over so fast Ann only had time to sit up and pull her torn blouse around herself.

Despite seeing that he was a supernatural being, she wasn’t afraid when he came over to here. “Thank you,” she said with all of her heart.

She watched his eyes glow in the dark like a cats, as he answered her, “The show must go on, right?” he said with that mysterious grin.

As It Stands, when can you remember ever reading about a good vampire?

Interview With A Werewolf

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I double-checked the padlock on the cage while waiting for the werewolf to appear.

It took over a year to arrange this interview. As you can imagine finding a werewolf is one thing. Getting a werewolf to talk is quite another. A footnote prior to the interview; werewolves can talk. Who would have guessed?

Full disclosure. I’m a writer for International Horror magazine. I’ll be taping this interview to make sure I record it faithfully.

Since I’m just waiting for the prearranged time, I might as well give you some back story information. For starters, my connection to a friend of the werewolf’s, Conrad Standish, is what made this possible. I met him quite by accident while traveling in the West Yorkshire area of England. My rented car broke down and I had it towed to the nearest mechanic’s shop in Blackshaw, a little town of less than 900 people. Conrad was the only mechanic in town.

My Renault Mégane sputtered and died as I was driving on a country road towards a friend’s house. As I waited for Conrad to even look at it, I decided to get a pint at the local pub. After ordering a Guinness, I took a seat at a small table near the north wall and people-watched while I sipped on it. It was noon and I was hungry, so I ordered some bangers and mash. By the time I left at 2:00 o’clock, I was feeling the effects of the three beers I drank.

It was a short walk across town to Conrad’s shop. I was relieved to see he was looking under the hood. I didn’t want to disturb him, so I stood quietly nearby and waited. I could hear him grumbling about something, but couldn’t quit make out what it was. When he popped his shaggy head out from underneath the hood I suddenly felt a shiver down my spine. It made no sense. It wasn’t because he was so big. The only thing I could think of was his eyes were strangely bright and golden in color.

He said he had to wait for a part tomorrow and closed up his shop. I asked him where a good place was to eat dinner?

“That pub,” he answered, pointing at the one where I had lunch.

“Will you join me then?” I asked, expecting to be turned down.

“Will ya be buying mate?” he asked with a big smile.

We started with a couple of Guinness’, moved on to some quality Irish whiskey and stayed until the pub closed and we were as drunk as a couple of lords. We talked about everything under the sun, including werewolves. I told him about my job writing for the magazine. He found the subject of werewolves to be fascinating, so much so, that he shared a secret with me. He knew a werewolf!

I poured us both another tot of whiskey when he told me that. My excitement grew as he shared the werewolf’s tale.

“He was once a proper English gentleman,” Conrad explained. “But he was bitten by a wounded werewolf when he went outside his house one night to investigate a racket that woke him up in alarm.

“He shot the beast with his double-barreled shotgun and it howled in rage and attacked him. It was a friend who saved his life when he plunged a silver candlestick into the werewolf’s back and it came out in front – piercing it’s fierce heart. Sadly, the beasts’ bite made him a werewolf.”

“Pardon me mate,” I injected, “but is this werewolf, nearby?”

“Aye,” Conrad assured me.

He poured us both another shot and went on with his story. It turned out that the werewolf was his boyhood friend.

“We didn’t talk about his affliction after the attack, but every full moon he asked me to chain him up in the cellar of his house. This fateful attack happened many years ago. There were times when he either forgot to ask me to lock him up, or he chose to roam free as a beast for his own reasons. But we have remained mates through thick and thin.”

Hoping against all hope, I asked Conrad if there was a way I could interview his friend without him tearing me to pieces? More importantly, I wanted to know if werewolf’s could talk?

“Aye, they can talk all right. I’ve never had trouble understanding him when he was chained up and we were having a conversation. I always keep in mind however that he’s part beast, and like any wild thing he could turn on a dime and attack if unshackled. It’s part of his terrible affliction and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

“Can I ask you for a favor? “I’ve nowhere to stay tonight. Might I sleep on your couch?

“Aye! I’m a bachelor and don’t have some missus to break our balls when we stumble through the front door!” he roared, laughing so hard that his face turned beet red.

I admit that I have some trouble remembering everything that was said last night. Conrad was up early and having a cup of tea when I rolled off the couch and stretched. After greeting me he went to the stove in the kitchen and broke a couple of eggs into a frying pan. Our breakfast of fried eggs, black pudding, and baked beans was accompanied with orange juice. 

As we walked over to his shop I asked him how soon he could set up an interview? He informed me that tonight was a full moon and he could set something up at his place if I wanted. Of course, I eagerly agreed. That night he revealed how the interview could be safely conducted. Long ago he built a steel cage in his root cellar so that his friend could visit him on full moons for a change of pace.

Which brings me to the big night. After checking that the padlock is secure, I’m ready for the interview of a lifetime. My cassette is loaded with a three-hour tape and is recording now. That should be more than enough time.

Wait! Do you hear that? (deep growl) The trap door is opening. My God! Look at the size of that beast! (The werewolf approaches the cage)

“So, you want to talk with me?” it growled in barely audible English.

“Yes, I have so many questions to ask…what’s your name?”

“Conrad,” the werewolf snarled as he slipped the key into the padlock! “You’ve already had your interview, now it’s play time.”

As It Stands, some writers will do anything for a good story.

The Maze of Xipe Totec

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Doris sobbed in pain as she stumbled down the dark tunnel looking for a way out of the maze.

The day before.

Eric and Doris were on vacation celebrating their fifth anniversary. They were in a rented motor home at an RV Park just outside of the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho.

They were sitting outside at a picnic table eating their breakfast when they saw an old man going from one parked RV to another, stopping and talking with the owners and handing them a piece of paper. What caught their eyes was his clothing. He wore a long-sleeved red shirt covered in beads hanging from his scrawny neck. His wide-brimmed hat was topped with two large peacock feathers sticking out from the headband. His jeans were worn thin with age and he wore moccasins.

They watched him with curiosity as he slowly walked over to them with the aid of a twisted walking-stick taller than he was.

“Howdy folks!”

“Right back at ya,” Eric said cheerfully.

“Having a good time exploring?”

“Well, we haven’t done anything yet. We just got here,” Doris explained.

“Pleased to meet you both. My names Charlie Sweetwater. I live a short ways from here. Not too far from the Snake River, and just a mile from the Maze of Xipe Totec.”

“What maze?” Doris asked, “I don’t recall reading about one in our tourists guide.” 

The old man smiled and said, “There’s many things to see in this world that aren’t in tourist guides for one reason or another,” he suggested.

“Isn’t Xipe Totec an Aztec god?” Eric asked, changing the subject.

“He is, my friend. When the Spanish drove the Aztecs out of Mexico they fled to many places in this country. I am a descendent of those Aztecs. I know this area well, and have been sharing the location of the Maze of Xipe Totec with visitors who come to this place to camp for many years.”

“Where is this maze,” Doris asked.

“Here, I have a simple map for those who wish to explore the maze. You should also know there’s a legend about Aztec golden idols and other artifacts made from pure gold hidden in its depths.”

“Thank you for sharing that Mr. Sweetwater,” Doris said.

“If you wouldn’t mind, there’s little work in this area for a man of my age. People’s donations help me get by...”

“Certainly,” Eric said, and stood up and fished around the back pocket of his cargo shorts, pulling out a wallet. He peeled off two twenties and handed it to him.

“Thank you. Enjoy your stay,” Charlie said, as he set off down the road towards the next RV.

“Was that you feel-good donation of the day?” Doris mocked Eric.

“Hey, it was an interesting story, and just look at this authentic map that directs us to a maze in a cave somewhere that’s supposed to be full of Aztec treasures,” he teased.

“Okay,” Doris moved on, “What is our agenda for the day?”

They sipped coffee for another hour before deciding there was no place they wanted to see nearby.

“Wanna leave early and head for California?” Doris asked.

“What about the maze?” Eric said while holding up the map Charlie gave him.

“Really Eric? You believe that old man’s maze story? It’s just a way for him to make money from warm-hearted and well-to-do tourists.

“I know you’re probably right, but what else is there to do? We wanted to spend at least a day, or two, in each state. The maze isn’t that far from here. If we don’t find it, we’ll still enjoy the hike. It’s a beautiful day.”

Between driving and hiking, it took them three hours to find the cave. Both were amazed one was really there. They took off their backpacks and pulled out flashlights.

Eric pulled a rope out of his backpack and tied one end to a pine tree near the cave’s entrance. “You have your rope too, right?” he asked her. She nodded.

“Are you sure you want to explore that cave?”

Yeah, I have to admit I’m curious. I’m glad I brought my camera along.

They weren’t walking that long before they came to the end of Eric’s rope. “Now what? Do you want to keep going?” he asked while shinning his flashlight ahead. In reply, Doris took out her rope and tied it onto his. “Let’s go.

They followed the twists and turns and got stuck in a dead-end several times. Using the rope they were able to retrace their steps and go in a different direction. After an hour they stopped to rest and drink some water from the bottles in their backpacks.

Doris heard the sound first.

“Do you hear that?” she cried out.

“Hear what…what the hell is that?”

“Sounds like chanting...” Doris guessed with a growing dread in her voice.

“But who? What? Are there other people in here?” he wondered out loud.

Then they saw them.

They were short, maybe three-feet tall, and dressed up in ceremonial Aztec trappings. Some appeared to be priests with red robes. Others were bare-chested warriors who held obsidian swords and knives at the ready. The priests continued chanting as the warriors slowly moved forward in fighting stances.

“Run!” Eric shouted.

Doris didn’t need to be told. She was running, when a small spear hit her left shoulder from behind. She stopped and pulled it out with her other hand while Eric fought with the spear-thrower. When she bent down to retrieve the rope he screamed “Go!” as two more warriors attacked with their swords!

Doris accidently dropped her flashlight but kept stumbling forward into the darkness using her good arm to hold onto the rope. She heard Eric’s scream of pain and then there was silence. She would have to find her way out if she didn’t want to die. She could hear the sound of bare feet as the warriors stealthy followed her in silence. She held onto the rope and kept moving. Hoping to escape the maze.

The next day.

Charlie Sweetwater watched as the state patrolmen looked around, and inside, Doris and Eric’s RV. He sighed in pleasure that his offering was taken by Xipe Totec. It had been a long time since he’d found willing victims.

As It Stands, park rangers at Craters of the Moon National Monument will neither confirm, or deny, that Charlie Sweetwater is a local legend.

An Incident Under A Waxing Moon

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Seth and Eli had no choice. They waited until nightfall to make their break.

It was a waxing moon and they felt exposed under its bright light, but if they stayed where they were the Yankees would eventually find them. The union army under McClellan had split the Confederate forces in half that hot afternoon in July, seizing a decisive victory by capturing or killing half of Lt. Col. John Pegam’s men, and routing the rest.

Seth and Eli were among the many Confederates who were escaping to nearby Beverly, and on over to the Shawnee Trail. They were separated from their unit in the chaos of retreat. Seth was wounded. A Yankee mini ball hit him just below his right knee, shattering the bone. It was bound up hastily by Eli who helped him walk by supporting his wounded side with one brawny arm. Seth was weak from loss of blood and they were hiding in a thicket near a farmhouse.

They would have to cross an open field to reach the forest that led to Beverly where the Confederate forces were fleeing. Eli looked up at the sky and cursed the bright moon.

“Time to go Seth. We’ve got to find a place to hide before the sun comes up and McClellan’s boys catch us.”

The two men awkwardly walked towards the tree line. Seth had his loaded rifle in his free hand. It seemed like forever before they entered the forest. They pressed on for two hours before Seth had to rest. Eli scouted around and found a small cave. He helped Seth inside. It was barely big enough for both men and smelled like bear. Eli sat up with his back against the rear, and rifle across his lap. It left enough room for Seth to lay down. He was in obvious pain, but didn’t complain.

They were best friends and were raised in the same small town in Virginia. As boys they hunted together and spent lazy days fishing. That all changed when the war started. They signed up to defend their home and state like the rest of the boys in their community. It was a year since the War of the States broke out and both young men had seen their share of fighting in numerous skirmishes, leading up to the Battle of Rich Mountain.

Eli was starting to fall asleep when he heard a strange noise and simultaneously smelled something rank. Like a skunk. He leaned over to the narrow opening where he’d pulled some bushes in after entering the cave. He peered through the brush and saw something that scared the hell out of him! It was at least eight-feet tall, and looked like a giant hairy man. It was standing mere feet away from their hiding place and sniffing the night air like a great hound.

The moon was bright enough to slash through the forest canopy exposing the creatures face. It was the stuff nightmares are made from. It’s head looked too small for its huge body. Protruding fangs and lifeless eyes, like a sharks, stared into the night. It’s grunts sounded similar to a boar.

Eli was afraid to move a muscle, and hoped Seth wouldn’t wake up and start moaning. He saw the thing bend over something and gradually became aware that it was a body. A flash of blue uniform under the moon’s unforgiving gaze, told him it was a Yank. Streams of light filtered through the trees around the creature as it bent over and casually tore off the mans arm and started chewing on it!

Nothing in Eli’s life prepared him for the horror he was witnessing. He saw men die on both sides off the battlefield, but their violent deaths paled beside the nightmare unfolding in front of him. The thing had plucked the other arm out like a chicken wing and tossed the bones of the other in his direction. Eli flinched. He forced himself to remain calm. Wild things could sense fear. He learned that as a boy growing up in the hill country. The man-thing tossed the other arm bone aside and bent over the body again, coming up with a trail of intestines in it’s large mouth.

At that moment Seth woke up, and groaned out loud!

Eli quickly put a hand over his mouth and prayed it didn’t hear him. Seth’s eyes opened in surprise and Eli put a finger to his lips. The grunting outside stopped. He could barely make out the beast’s movement. It was amazingly stealthy for something so large. The creature suddenly hunched down and looked in the opposite direction in time to see a Confederate soldier with fixed bayonet charge it!

There was a terrible roar of rage when the bayonet pierced the beast’s breast, but it didn’t go down. Still standing, it slowly pulled the bayonet out, to the soldiers horror. It grabbed the rifle and threw it down while reaching out with his other massive arm for the terrified soldier.

Eli was already moving and scurried out of the cave and took aim at the beast’s back and fired! It kept plunging forward and grabbed the soldier with a scream of anger and tore his head off with it’s bare hands! Turning, it saw Eli standing 20-feet away and roared with increased rage. Eli barely had time to fix his bayonet on his rifle when it charged. Bracing himself, he thrust his rifle forward and stabbed the creature’s bloody breast before it knocked him over!

The force of it’s charge sent him backwards several feet and he tumbled roughly on the forest floor. As he scrambled to his feet he saw Seth crawling out of the cave. He calmly leveled his .36 caliber Navy revolver and fired six shots at the beast. It turned away from Eli and turned on Seth. Eli screamed “No!” and pulled his hunting knife out and started to take a step when more gunfire broke out!

Three Union soldiers appeared and were firing volleys at the beast! It let out a terrible scream of agony and finally lumbered away in the opposite direction. They could hear it smashing its way through the deep forest for minutes afterward.

Eli looked over at the Union soldiers, who lowered their rifles, and cracked a wry smile, “I never thought I’d be so damn glad to see some damn Yankees!” he said, as he held his arms up in surrender.

As It Stands, you never know when you and an enemy might end up on the same side one day.

The Irresistible Call of Adventure

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It was the voice that convinced Remy to go further into the cave.

He initially went into the cave to escape the blistering heat outside. As an old desert rat, treasure-hunter, gold miner, and seeker of riches, he knew better than to challenge the sun at its apex.

At first he only went in a few yards. With the help of his flashlight he found a comfortable spot on a large outcropping of rock to sit on. He pulled the canteen off his belt and took a short swig of it. Just enough to wet his tongue and throat so he could swallow. He looked at his old Timex wristwatch that still glowed in the dark after 50 years, and decided to take a quick nap. He relocated himself on the ground with his back to the granite wall, and pulled his baseball cap (that said Lakers on the front) down.

When he woke up an hour later the first thing he noticed was a horrible smell. Standing up carefully, there was only a small clearance between the roof and his head, Remy took a few steps further into the cave and shone his light down into its dark depths. He didn’t see anything, but the smell told him something was wrong. It smelled like death. Decaying corpses. Humans turned into torches with napalm. The fat in their body fueling the flames and causing a greasy smoke that clung to whatever was near.

That bad. If Remy wasn’t an adventurer at heart, he would have left the cave right then. But his curiosity, which had nearly cost him his life before, was too strong. When he heard the voice in his head that cinched it…he had to go further inside and find out why it was calling him.

He double checked the contents of his backpack. Extra ammunition for the old Army .45 he brought back from the Nam, and carried on his web belt. Enough dried, and canned food for a week. A Vietnam-era metal mess kit, plus P-38. A compact First-Aid kit. A compass. A flip phone (a concession to his grown daughter) with minimum functions. A charger for the phone which was only good if it could be plugged into an electrical outlet. A local map of the area he was in. A folded up plastic poncho. An extra t-shirt, and pair of socks. Extra batteries for his flashlight. A metal flask filled with Bushnell’s Irish whiskey. Along with the .45, he had a flashlight, two canteens, and a k-bar knife hanging on his web belt.

Caves didn’t scare him. He’d been in a few hostile ones in Vietnam and Cambodia. He took his bearings with the compass, mentally noting them before pushing on further. After an hour he stopped when the cave abruptly broke off into three directions. The already stale smell of the damp cave was enhanced by the sickening smell that drove him on.

The air was getting thin as he pondered which way to go. His sense of smell wasn’t so acute that he could tell which cave the stench was coming from. They all smelled like hell to him. Then he heard the voice.

“Chests full of old Spanish gold and rare jewels…”

“Where?” he roared, his voice reverberating down all three tunnels.

“Down here…down here waiting for you…” the voice promised.

Remy knew, on one hand, that he shouldn’t be listening to a voice in his head. After years of PTSD counseling he knew it wasn’t right to respond to a voice in his head. It was the fine line between sanity and insanity.

But, on the other hand, he’d responded to voices (one’s he didn’t tell the psychiatrists about) before and things had worked out. He picked the tunnel to the right and started walking as he debated with himself about the value of voices with messages. After walking for eight hours he took his backpack off and sat down on the damp ground. He rummaged through it until he found some beef jerky and his plastic poncho. He unfolded the poncho and slipped it on. It afforded some protection against the dampness. He finished his meal off with a swig of water and whiskey. Before falling asleep it struck him that he was getting use to the foul smell.

When he woke up the first thing he did was look at his wristwatch and turn on his flashlight. He’d slept eight hours. That was two hours more than his normal rest. He wondered how much the thin air weakened him. As if in answer, he got dizzy when he stood up. It took a couple of minutes to be able to bend over and retrieve his web belt. He felt a little better after sipping some water. His first decision was to go back the way he came until he found the crossroads again. It took him over eight hours because he had to stop and rest several times.

When he came to the opening for the three tunnels he sat down and pulled out his metal flask and took a healthy swig. He sat down and took his compass out and studied it for a few minutes under the flashlights beam. He was exhausted and decided to camp right where he sat. After eating, still wearing the poncho, he curled up on the ground and fell asleep. An hour later he woke up, startled by an overpowering smell stronger than what he remembered earlier.

Instinctively he reached for his web belt and his gun. He drew the .45 from its canvas holster, before slowly standing up. The smell was so strong he felt like vomiting. Then he saw the eyes – hundreds of them – glaring at him from all three tunnels! The only option left was a strategic retreat.

The things in the tunnel made a low chattering sound in anger. Some grew more bold than others and came closer so that he was able to see their short, squat, hairy, naked bodies, clutching weapons made from human bones. Their faces were disfigured parodies of humans and they were covered in vile-looking boils. Some had three arms One had two heads, and hopped angrily on one leg.

Remy backed up and kept the flashlight in front of him. When one of them burst forward and came within a few feet of him he fired his gun three times, then turned and ran as fast as he could! Gun in one hand and flashlight in the other, he stumbled but never stopped running. It seemed like forever before he saw daylight and the cave’s opening.

He was blinded by the sun and held his hand in front of his eyes. He looked back at the cave’s entrance once, expecting to see pursuit. None came. As he hiked back to his old jeep he decided this was one adventure he wouldn’t share with anyone.

Especially with his friends who warned him to stay away from the Yucca flat region of the Nevada Test Site near Area 51.

As It Stands, some of us are born adventurers that will always be looking for treasure, but not necessarily finding it.